Though they battled right down until the very end, the U.S. Men's National Team just couldn't quite come away with a victory against Belgium to advance out of the knockout stage at the 2014 World Cup.
It is an all-too-common reality for fans of the Stars and Stripes, with the country being knocked out of two consecutive World Cups in the round of 16. Despite the heartbreaking loss for the U.S., what's next might be more important than what's behind them.
Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann referred to the future for his club, per U.S. Soccer's official account:
How true are those words, exactly? With a roster loaded for prospective tournaments, Klinsmann's club might be even better in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
There is no certainty for aging players like superstars Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard, who will be 35 and 39 years old, respectively, when the Russia tournament rolls around. But the roster is invigorated with youth and will likely have consistency at the top with Klinsmann already committing to coach through 2018.
That youth movement starts with Julian Green, the youngest player on the roster. After getting his first touch in the waning moments of the 2-1 loss to Belgium in extra time, Green made it count with a historic goal, as the MLS notes:
Both Green and Aron Johannsson are young guns with a lethal touch that might be a secret in the future. Klinsmann also noted his special young striker, per Kelly Whiteside of USA Today.
"Julian was growing at a very fast speed in the last seven weeks, and we guided him through that process," he said. "It was just phenomenal how he came in and scored that goal. It’s fun to watch that kid grow."
There's another striker that came into the World Cup with hopes of making a huge impact in Jozy Altidore. While he was derailed early on in the group stage against Ghana with a hamstring injury, Altidore is still a weapon for the Americans heading into Russia.
Unfortunately, Klinsmann said he simply wasn't ready to come off the bench against Belgium, via Evan Doherty of Yahoo Sports:
The young talent also trickles down to some defenders ready to get the job done in 2018. Players like DeAndre Yedlin (20 years old) and John Brooks (21 years old) made considerable progress on the World Cup stage and will likely have bigger roles in 2018.
Midfielders Michael Bradley and Graham Zusi might also be bidding for another shot and will look to lead the team. Bradley, who took some criticism for his play in Brazil, talked about how the team performed against Belgium, per Mike Foss of USA Today:
I think as fans we have admired teams who have gone for it and we said to ourselves whenever we are going home – we wanted to go home going for it, and we did. That is part of the progression for us, you’re now able to play games like this, regardless of who you play against … to play on even terms, and I think in this World Cup, we were able to do that.
The simple fact of the matter is that the U.S. came away with a 1-2-1 record, advancing out of the "Group of Death." Though they dealt with some demons against Ghana and notched a dramatic victory, losses to Germany and Belgium prove this team wasn't quite ready for the next step—yet.
If each player can continue to mature through events like the Gold Cup next summer, Olympics and Copa America in 2016 and potentially the Confederations Cup in 2017, a longer run could be on the horizon for the National Team.
After giving the country hope for the future, the young players now have to step up and help carry the Stars and Stripes. With the talent on the roster likely hanging around for the 2018 World Cup, what the future holds might be something Americans have never seen.
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