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US Soccer: How the Americans Rebuilt to Become the Best in CONCACAF

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US Soccer: How the Americans Rebuilt to Become the Best in CONCACAF
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On June 25, 2011, the United States national team experienced one of their toughest losses in recent memory.

Up 2-0 in the Gold Cup final to archrivals Mexico, the Yanks' defense crumbled, conceding four goals to lose 4-2. Additionally, Mexico secured a spot in the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup with their victory.

Mexico was unofficially the toast of North American soccer after the Gold Cup. Under manager Jose Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre and star Manchester United striker Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, El Tri were expected to roll through World Cup qualifying and put up a strong performance in Brazil in 2014.

Mexico continued to prove this premise true throughout 2012. 

El Tri would complete a perfect 6-0-0 record in preliminary World Cup qualifying in 2012. Additionally, the Mexicans would claim Olympic gold against a highly fancied Brazilian side featuring talents like Lucas, Neymar and Oscar. 

With a strong core of young players, 2013 was expected to be a continuation of the two previous years for El Tri.

Mexico would breeze World Cup qualifying and would also contend in the Confederations Cup.

While Mexico reached unforeseen heights in their national program, the United States used this opportunity to rebuild.

Bob Bradley, who managed the Americans since 2006, was sacked, and former German manager Jurgen Klinsmann was given the job.

Mike Hewitt/Getty Images
Jurgen Klinsmann's attacking philosophy has worked for the Americans.
Klinsmann, who was previously courted for the head position of the national team in 2006 and 2010, made sure to leave a new imprint on the American side within months of his appointment. 

Although Klinsmann was not familiar with the American roster, he made sure to move away from players whom Bradley was comfortable with such as Jonathan Bornstein.

He also made moves to gradually replace established veterans like Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo on the roster.

Klinsmann decided to not only utilize Major League Soccer to bring on new players, but also by recruiting foreign-born players who had American parents to play for the national team like Fabian Johnson and Daniel Williams.

The German manager also ensured Timmy Chandler would become tied to the American roster due to his "frequent contact" with the Nuremberg defender.

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Timmy Chandler might start for the United States at the 2014 World Cup.
The manager also decided to bring fringe players on the national team under Bradley like Kyle Beckerman and Michael Parkhurst, only to make them into starters during both friendlies and World Cup qualifiers.

Although the U.S. scored twice in Klinsmann's first six matches and had problems reaching the final World Cup qualifying round in 2012, they started to build a foundation for success in 2013.

This started with wins in Italy and Mexico in 2012 friendlies. Although these 1-0 victories were deceiving because the Americans were outplayed in both fixtures, these wins helped to set up the Americans for future success.

Klinsmann also made a controversial decision in dropping Landon Donovan from the first team.

With Donovan's future in the crossroads in late 2012, the German manager decided the best move was to move the Yanks ahead without their biggest star, according to this Pro Soccer Talk report by Steve Davis.

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
In early 2013, the U.S. were hurt without Donovan in a 2-1 loss to Honduras. However, Klinsmann did not allow this to change his mind about the American star.

Even after Landon returned and played well, Klinsmann did not call the Los Angeles Galaxy star for three June World Cup qualifiers.

This decision was an important reason behind the U.S. winning all three qualifiers. Although they lacked Donovan, the emergence of Jozy Altidore and the vision of Michael Bradley aided the Americans in becoming a more adaptable attacking team.

Altidore's form was especially stunning. After failing to score in 2012, Jozy set an American record by scoring in five straight matches this past summer, punctuated by a hat-trick against Bosnia and Herzegovina. 

When the Gold Cup came, Donovan returned to the national team and led the Americans to their fifth championship in the tournament's history.

Donovan was named the best player of the competition thanks in large part to his tournament-high five goals scored.

The return of the United States' biggest star came right in the middle of the United States' 12-match winning streak. After the return of their most notable player, the Americans won eight straight matches.

The re-emergence of the United States' biggest star coincided with Mexico's demise. El Tri had labored through 2013. The Mexicans were held to two scoreless draws at the Estadio Azteca (including a 0-0 result against the United States in a World Cup qualifier) and gained just three points at the Confederations Cup.

Miguel Tovar/Getty Images
Chicharito and the Mexican national team could miss their first World Cup since 1990.
With a backup squad, Mexico lost in the Gold Cup semifinals to Panama.

Mexico's tumultuous 2013 calendar year climaxed on September 6, when Honduras became just the second side ever to defeat Mexico at Azteca.

Similarly to an earlier win against the Americans at the outset of the final hexagonal cycle, Los Catrachos scored twice after falling behind to claim a come-from-behind victory against a CONCACAF heavyweight.

The loss caused De la Torre to be sacked with three qualification matches remaining. Mexico currently sit fourth in the CONCACAF standings, just one point ahead of fifth place Panama.

Only the top three sides in the CONCACAF table automatically qualify for the World Cup.

If Mexico remain in fourth, they would play New Zealand in a two-legged playoff with the winner playing in Brazil next summer.

Although there is much to say about the struggles El Tri have faced in the last year, the re-emergence of the United States national team is just as important.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Eleven months ago, the United States almost missed reaching the final round of World Cup qualifying.
Considering 11 months ago, stories like this one in The Sporting News prove the potential fear if the Yanks failed to reach their seventh consecutive World Cup, this "American renaissance" is one that should be celebrated.

Regardless of what happens on Tuesday night, the Americans are on track to play in the 2014 World Cup. They will probably qualify for the World Cup either during Tuesday's match or during the October 11 match against Jamaica.

This emergence, when coupled with the recent futility of Mexico's squad, means the United States will likely be the most dangerous CONCACAF side in next summer's World Cup.

 

Follow me on Twitter @Andrew_Jordan

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