Now that the United States men's national team has officially qualified for the 2014 World Cup with its win last week over Mexico, all eyes are turning to Brazil and the opening of the world's biggest tournament in nine months.
In the 2010 World Cup, the United States topped their group, which included historic power England. And although they lost a disappointing game to Ghana in the Round of 16, they represented the U.S. well.
Now, four years later, the USMNT is primed to do even better.
Here are five reasons why.
In the 2009 Confederations Cup, one year prior to the 2010 World Cup, the USMNT was just starting to show its teeth. The team notched a historic win over Spain that summer and nearly beat Brazil in the final.
However, in the World Cup, things were much different for the United States.
Injuries to Charlie Davies and Oguchi Onyewu, both who had been key to the team's success in 2009, drastically changed the quality of the team the U.S. put out on the field in 2010. An ineffective Robbie Findley replaced Davies, while Carlos Bocanegra, who was still a viable left-back in 2010, was forced to play centrally in half the U.S.' games to replace Onyewu, who was still not 100 percent.
In those games, including the loss to Ghana, Jonathan Bornstein was brought in on the left side of the U.S. defense.
And, although Stuart Holden was not part of the 2009 Confederations Cup squad, he was just entering the best phase of his career in 2010 before he suffered a broken leg in a reckless challenge from the Netherlands' Nigel de Jong in a March 2010 friendly.
Holden spent the next three months rushing through rehabilitation. While he did recover enough to make the roster, he was not fit enough to compete for a starting spot alongside Michael Bradley in the U.S. midfield.
Injuries to three top players would devastate any team and certainly hurt the U.S. in 2010. And while the same scenario heading into 2014 would not be ideal, the team would not be nearly as affected as it was four years ago.
It currently has more depth than at any time in its history with top players like Aron Johannsson, John Anthony Brooks, Eddie Johnson, Graham Zusi, Geoff Cameron, Brad Guzan, Mix Diskerud and Alejandro Bedoya available off the bench. In their current form, any of those eight players would have competed for a starting spot on the 2010 team.
Furthermore, the U.S. is so deep these days that some players, like Tigres' Jose Torres, Tijuana playmaker Joe Corona, sparkplug Brek Shea and Champions League midfielder Sacha Kljestan may be left off the roster entirely.
Former U.S. manager Bob Bradley, who coached the team in 2010, is proving in his World Cup qualifying run with Egypt that he is a top international manager.
Still, it's becoming hard to argue that the team isn't better off today under Klinsmann's leadership than it was under Bradley. While Bradley's players clearly loved him, there's no doubt that his favoring of some players, like Jonathan Bornstein, Robbie Findley and Ricardo Clark, hurt the team.
In his short tenure with the team, Klinsmann has considerably grown the size of the U.S. roster, convincing at least eight dual internationals (Aron Johannsson, Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler, Danny Williams, Terrence Boyd, Joe Corona, Mix Diskerud, Omar Gonzalez) to commit themselves to the U.S. Klinsmann is working on several more, notably John Anthony Brooks and Julian Green.
Klinsmann has also shown that he is willing to call out his top players after he dropped an out-of-form Jozy Altidore for the October World Cup qualifiers in 2012, repeatedly skipped over Landon Donovan for call-ups and publicly called out Clint Dempsey.
He also dropped Timmy Chandler after his poor performance in Honduras in February, looks to have permanently dropped Carlos Bocanegra (a little more dubious considering Bocanegra was still playing well for the team) and made Mix Diskerud earn his way into the squad even when it looked like he might choose to represent Norway internationally.
Klinsmann's experience as a coach and a player should also pay off for the U.S. next summer. He won the tournament as a player in 1990 and led Germany (albeit at home) to a third-place finish in 2006.
He also seems to have the magic touch right now with the team, making the best choices with his rosters, lineup and substitutions over and over again throughout the last six months.
U.S. fans should start salivating when comparing the regular starters at the 2010 World Cup for those come 2014.
The U.S. should be stronger at striker, having a vastly improved and more experienced Jozy Altidore paired with Clint Dempsey rather than a young and raw Altidore playing with Robbie Findley.
At center mid, the U.S. will have Michael Bradley in the prime of his career and Jermaine Jones instead of a young and temperamental Bradley paired with Ricardo Clark. Although Jones is much-maligned among U.S. fans, even his detractors would have to admit he is still a massive upgrade from Clark.
The left-back situation is also much more stable. While U.S. fans continue the debate on whether the team is better with DaMarcus Beasley or Fabian Johnson in the back, the fact is, both are better than Jonathan Bornstein.
At center-back, the U.S. will have Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez. While the Besler/Gonzalez combination will not have the experience that the pair of Carlos Bocanegra/Jay DeMerit had, Besler and Gonzalez are more mobile and just as good in the air. They also both appear better at recognizing/anticipating the diagonal runs that constantly opened up the U.S. defense in 2010.
Right-back remains a question mark, and Steve Cherundolo will be difficult to replace. But with Geoff Cameron, Brad Evans, Michael Parkhurst, Michael Orozco and possibly Eric Lichaj, Timmy Chandler or DeAndre Yedlin, the U.S. has plenty of capable options.
Goalkeeper might be a slight downgrade, as Tim Howard has regressed since 2010. But, he can still put on a strong performance, as he demonstrated against Mexico last week (and Chelsea this week on the club level), and Brad Guzan is waiting in the wings for the U.S. should Howard slide too much.
In fact, the only position where the U.S. is likely to be weaker, but only slightly, is on the wings. The U.S. will have Landon Donovan and either Fabian Johnson or Graham Zusi (with players like Alejandro Bedoya, Joe Corona, Jose Torres and others off the bench) out wide instead of Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, both who were in great form in 2010.
In 2010, two of the U.S.' key players, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore, were mere kids at ages 22 and 20, respectively. Now, four years older and more experienced with burgeoning European careers, both will be much more dangerous as well as better prepared for the mental rigors of a World Cup.
The U.S.' veterans will also be able to bring a vast amount of World Cup experience to the table both for themselves and to help the younger players. Landon Donovan and a revitalized DaMarcus Beasley will, amazingly, be at their fourth World Cup, and Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard will be at their third.
Additionally, all four veterans know definitively that this will be their last World Cup and will want to end their international careers on a high note.
It's impossible to look at the likely U.S. roster for 2014 and think they won't be able to do better than the team in 2010 considering what many of the players have gone through in the last four years.
Landon Donovan nearly gave up the game last winter and is playing some of the best football of his life since coming back. His offseason sabbatical appears to given him some important perspective and taken some of the psychological weight off his shoulders.
Clint Dempsey has three more years of English Premier League experience under his belt than he did in 2010 and should be very well settled in Seattle and Major League Soccer by next summer.
Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley have both overcome slumps in their European careers that followed the 2010 World Cup. Altidore, after several moves, finally found his footing with AZ Alkmaar and engineered a move back to the Premier League. Bradley overcame a bad situation at Borussia Monchengladbach and a failed move to Aston Villa before getting back on track at Chievo Verona and now AS Roma.
DaMarcus Beasley and Eddie Johnson's club and international careers were both left for dead two years ago, but both have now become fully integrated with new clubs and earned their way back into the national team fold—hopefully with a new appreciation for football.
Finally, the younger U.S. stars will know that the World Cup offers them a huge opportunity to improve their club careers. For those harboring a dream of a move to a big European club, a strong performance in Brazil is a must. Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Graham Zusi, Joe Corona, Mix Diskerud and Aron Johannsson will be ready to show the world what they can do.
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