USMNT Must Close out Hexagonal Strong Despite Securing 2014 World Cup Berth
It's official: The U.S. Men's National Soccer Team is going to Brazil.
With a 2-0 win over Mexico on Tuesday night at the Columbus Crew Stadium, the Americans officially punched their ticket to the 2014 World Cup next summer. Eddie Johnson and Landon Donovan scored goals for Team USA in the victory.
Conventional wisdom would suggest that now is the time to relax. One of only 10 teams to earn a World Cup bid so far, the U.S. has roughly a one-month break before reconvening. Other international teams will get similar rest, but don't have the luxury of a guarantee.
As noted by Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl, things are heating up as spots in the tournament continue to dwindle:
Road to 2014 World Cup: 52 nations now competing for 22 open spots. In yesterday: United States, Argentina, Netherlands, Italy, Costa Rica.— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) September 11, 2013
Now is not the time for the Americans to let up.
Although their 16 points are currently good enough for first place in the CONCACAF hexagonal table, the U.S. must not regress in their final two qualifying matches against Jamaica and Panama later this year.
Jurgen Klinsmann is on the brink of guiding one of the best international seasons we've ever seen in North America. The U.S. had a 12-match winning streak as recently as Thursday night before losing to Costa Rica, and records are dropping left and right.
Heck, the AP Sports Twitter account is even throwing out the word "genius" when talking about the U.S. manager:
ESPN's Paul Carr added some additional information to bolster that claim:
#USMNT has 14 wins in 2013, its most in a single year. Also on pace for best win pct & goals/game (min. 10 games).— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) September 11, 2013
Spirits are high in the United States when talking about the men's soccer team. Look no further than the raucous crowd gathered in Columbus last night, seen below via the U.S. Soccer Twitter account, to cement the idea that people are starting to have faith that the Americans can make noise in Brazil:
Two more CONCACAF wins would do wonders for that widespread confidence moving forward.
From a team perspective, there certainly is a lot to like about Klinsmann's side. With Clint Dempsey, Donovan, DeMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley and Tim Howard providing veteran leadership alongside Eddie Johnson, Jozy Altidore and a plethora of young stars, the future is bright for the World Cup.
The chemistry and cohesiveness Team USA has shown might be the biggest surprise. Bradley, who injured his ankle prior to the Costa Rica match and also missed the tilt with Mexico, decided to stay with the club despite his commitment to Serie A side AS Roma, as reported by Goal.
You don't make those kind of decisions without intense loyalty attached. It's a privilege to play for one's country in any sport, and to date, Klinsmann has been able to drive that point home with his team. You can see it on the field when emotion and excitement spill out of success.
The 2013 Gold Cup champions have work to do before we consider them favorites in Brazil. With a full season of club ball and various other tune-ups for World Cup action still looming on the schedule for the current Team USA players, a lot can happen between now and next summer.
What is a realistic expectation for the United States in Brazil right now?
For now, the U.S. needs to control what it can control. Klinsmann might be forced to carry a different roster against Jamaica and Panama than he has now; international club commitments and the Major League Soccer playoffs could affect that decision.
Roster not withstanding, the Americans are riding a high note that immediately draws visions of 1930—the U.S. finished third at the World Cup just before the start of the Great Depression. It is their highest finish to date.
Only time will tell if 2014 will produce better results. The United States has two scheduled matches to play in October. The march toward Brazil would continue without any digression with two more wins.
Follow B/R's Ethan Grant on Twitter.
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