With the United States men’s national team on a 10-game winning streak, including three straight World Cup qualifying wins and blazing a path into the CONCACAF Gold Cup finals, U.S. fans have plenty of reasons to be excited.
With the 2014 World Cup in Brazil only months away, here are 20 of the best reasons that excitement is completely justified.
Less than two years ago, left-back was easily the weakest position on the USMNT—now it may be one of the strongest. Jonathan Bornstein’s disastrous performance in the 2011 Gold Cup final condemned his national team career—as well as the coaching tenure of former manager Bob Bradley.
Besides Bornstein, the U.S. had no other natural left-footed options (other than a ridiculous attempt to play Jose Torres there last June) and at various times tried to shoehorn Timmy Chandler, Eric Lichaj and Michael Parkhurst into the position.
Now, with DaMarcus Beasley playing the best football of his career and Fabian Johnson probably still the No. 1 at the position, left-back is as solid as ever.
Throughout 2014 World Cup qualifying, much of which was done over the past year without Landon Donovan and with a misfiring Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey has been the rock of the USMNT.
He has 10 goals for the U.S. over the past year, many of them lifesavers to a U.S. squad that was devoid of attacking flair.
For most of the past year and a half, Jozy Altidore struggled to replicate with the national team the spectacular form he was enjoying at the club level.
However, this summer, that form returned for the USMNT, and Altidore scored in all three of the World Cup qualifiers for the U.S. With Clint Dempsey operating underneath him and the U.S. finally getting some decent wide play, Altidore’s stock with the U.S. has never been higher.
Here are 10 reasons alone for U.S. fans to get excited about the 2014 World Cup—Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Geoff Cameron, Mix Diskerud, Stuart Holden, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Joe Corona and Graham Zusi.
And if the U.S. needs some depth, it can always call in Kyle Beckerman, Alejandro Bedoya, Sacha Kljestan, Danny Williams, Maurice Edu, Jose Torres, Josh Gatt or Brek Shea.
In a pinch, Herculez Gomez, Fabian Johnson, DaMarcus Beasley and Eddie Johnson can all play there as well.
Matt Besler is the kind of defender one forgets is on the field because his game is so free of mistakes. With excellent positioning, a great understanding of when to step and when to drop and clean possession out of the back, Besler has come out of nowhere to become, arguably, the best option at center-back for the U.S.
Coming into this World Cup cycle only one year ago, the U.S. was regularly starting Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu and Clarence Goodson. Now, Besler, on almost nobody’s radar a year ago, is the top dog for the U.S. in the middle of the defense.
It’s not surprising considering the long history of producing top-flight goalkeepers, but the U.S. is once again stacked at the goalkeeper position. The team essentially has two No. 1 goalkeepers in Tim Howard and Brad Guzan, who both start for their clubs in the English Premier League.
Should either fall out of form, get injured or pick up an unfortunate yellow-card suspension, the net will be well minded with the other.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of this summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup has been the reemergence of the United States' all-time leading goalscorer, Landon Donovan.
In the tournament, Donovan is on fire with five goals and seven assists and on track to be the Golden Boot winner.
U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann's first year on the job was a series of up-and-down performances. While the team beat Italy and Mexico in friendlies, it also only won one of its first six games and struggled early in World Cup qualifying.
Now, every decision Klinsmann is making has turned to gold. He threw Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler to the wolves in the middle of World Cup qualifying—and the team won. He crazily decided to use Brad Evans and DaMarcus Beasley as the team’s right- and left-backs—and they both played well.
Klinsmann decided to use Geoff Cameron as a defensive midfielder—and Cameron was fantastic there. He kept faith in Jozy Altidore despite the fact that Altidore went 18 months without scoring—and Altidore started scoring again.
Even in the Gold Cup, every time the roster is released before kickoff, the Twitterverse is filled with complaints about Klinsmann’s selections, only to have those exact same players everybody is complaining about play better than anyone else on the field.
Klinsy is certainly feeling it right now and has his finger right on the pulse of his team.
With the team on such a hot streak, the World Cup can’t get here soon enough. While things are rocking for the U.S. right now, think about how much changed in the year prior to the 2010 World Cup.
Both Stuart Holden and Charlie Davies suffered horrible injuries in the months leading up to the World Cup and neither were completely fit when the U.S. kicked off the tournament. Instead, Bob Bradley was forced to start Robbie Findley and Ricardo Clark up top and in central midfield, and they turned out to be two of the worst players for the U.S. in the tournament.
Things could have been much different for the U.S. in 2010 had either Holden or Davies been healthy.
Knock on wood, but the U.S. needs to keep its stars injury-free over the next year to play up to its full potential in Brazil.
Between Michael Bradley, Mix Diskerud and Stuart Holden, the U.S. finally has the option to play a more aggressive style of play. Bogged down in a two-defensive midfielder set since the Bob Bradley era, the emergence of Diskerud and Holden, as well as Michael Bradley’s proven box-to-box ability, have given the U.S. the option to open up the attack.
As crazy as it might sound, the U.S. may even have the luxury of leaving a Champions League center midfielder in Sacha Kljestan off the roster entirely.
For the first time in recent memory, the U.S. has multiple options at every position. The midfield is stacked, left-back is locked down and Clarence Goodson’s performance at centre-back in the Gold Cup has even begun to inspire a little bit of confidence that he could play there in a pinch.
Landon Donovan and Eddie Johnson’s performances as forwards in the Gold Cup give the U.S. depth up top should either Altidore or Dempsey take a knock. Even right-back—which is completely up in the air—has plenty of choices in Steve Cherundolo, Timmy Chandler, Brad Evans, Geoff Cameron, Michael Parkhurst and Michael Orozco.
Who would have ever thought coming out of the 2010 World Cup that not only would DaMarcus Beasley, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey still be a part of the team, but that they would be the team’s top performers?
All three are on the wrong side of 30, yet all three are in the form of their life. Particularly impressive has been Beasley, who many had left for dead after years of struggling with the USMNT.
In six Gold Cup games (including the warm-up friendly against Guatemala), the U.S. has scored a remarkable 25 goals. More impressive is that the it has done so against CONCACAF teams dead set on bunkering against the U.S. attack.
A great deal of that has to do with the play of Landon Donovan and his seven goals and nine assists over that stretch, but the linkup play of Mix Diskerud and Stuart Holden as well as the fine attacking play of Eddie Johnson, Alejandro Bedoya and Joe Corona has been impressive as well.
One of the advantages (which can also be maddening) for Jurgen Klinsmann in determining the roster depth will be at what position many players are categorized.
For example, Geoff Cameron is probably the No. 3 player at center-back, left-back, right-back and holding midfielder for the U.S. Landon Donovan is definitely one of the top three attackers and can play out wide or up top. The same holds true for Clint Dempsey, Herculez Gomez and Eddie Johnson.
DaMarcus Beasley and Fabian Johnson are similarly versatile as either can play left-back or left midfielder.
At some point in qualifying, or even in the World Cup itself, this versatility will be a blessing for Klinsmann and the USMNT as Klinsmann will be able to move pieces around the board to field a strong team regardless of injuries and/or suspensions.
Even though Joe Corona, Alejandro Bedoya, Clarence Goodson and Kyle Beckerman could all conceivably be left off the World Cup roster, all four are playing extremely well right now.
In this year’s Gold Cup, each has proved that, should the need arise, they are all willing and able to come into the squad and contribute.
In the past few years, the USMNT supporter group, The American Outlaws, has grown from a small, relatively unknown group to a force capable on making the atmosphere in any stadium decisively pro-American.
The Outlaws “Boom, Boom, Clap” routine at the World Cup qualifier against Panama in Seattle last month had ESPN broadcaster Taylor Twellman remark, “Is the hair on the back of your neck standing up right now?”
With the USMNT fanbase growing just as rapidly as the U.S. team’s quality on the field, the U.S. will be a force to be reckoned with next summer.
Since losing its opening World Cup qualifier in the hexagonal in February, the USMNT has gone a remarkable 11-1-1, including the current 10-game winning streak.
Those types of results are clearly affecting Jurgen Klinsmann and the team during this Gold Cup as the team is playing with more confidence than ever. Gone is the sinking feeling that everything is about to go awry at any moment, and it has been replaced with a feeling that the team will recover from bumps in the road—just as it has in the past two games when giving up goals against the run of play.
Of course, the team is still one year away from the World Cup which is an eternity in international football—just ask the Mexican national team.
Considering how well both the U.S. “A” team and “B” team have been playing lately, it is crazy to think that there are still even more players who could help the team out between now and next summer.
It is not implausible that youngsters like DeAndre Yedlin, John Anthony Brooks, Julian Green, Juan Agudelo, Josh Gatt, Conor O’Brien, Bobby Wood or Joe Gyau could still push their way onto the senior squad if any have a breakout year at the club level.
Under Jurgen Klinsmann, six different players have captained the squad, including Tim Howard, Carlos Bocanegra, Jermaine Jones, DaMarcus Beasley, Kyle Beckerman and Clint Dempsey.
Additionally, Landon Donovan has captained the side in the past, and many believe Michael Bradley will lead the squad following the 2014 World Cup. That much leadership and experience in the locker room can only be a good thing as six of the aforementioned players are likely starters for the U.S. in the World Cup.
Unless the U.S. suffers the mother of all collapses, it will be going to Brazil in 2014. Atop the CONCACAF hexagonal, four separate teams would need to leapfrog the U.S. in the final four World Cup qualifiers to eliminate the U.S.
That simply isn’t going to happen.
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