US Soccer: A Road Map to a Deeper Run at World Cup 2018

M.F. DiBellaCorrespondent IJuly 16, 2014

Uncle Sam wants you (to be a soccer fan).
Uncle Sam wants you (to be a soccer fan).Associated Press

So the World Cup is over, and you have questions. Where does U.S. soccer go from here? Why is Germany so good, and how can the U.S. get to a World Cup final?

The World Cup has a cycle, much like the Presidential election, the Olympics or other quadrennial events, so there's no "better luck next year." The U.S. men's national team made some positive strides in Brazil but still has a long way to go to get to the elite level of a Germany.

As manager of the German national team from 2004-2006, Jurgen Klinsmann laid the groundwork for Germany's current success but was only able to get Die Mannschaft to the semifinals when Germany hosted the Cup in 2006.

Klinsmann was praised for his team's performance but decided not to renew his contract with the German FA soon after the team's loss to eventual Cup winners Italy in the semifinal.

Having reached four straight World Cup semifinals, two of four finals and one championship, Germany is the envy of all aspiring global soccer powers, not just the U.S.

Sixteen members of Germany's 23-man World Cup-winning squad play their club football domestically in the German Bundesliga, the world's second- or third-best league (depending on who you talk to) behind the EPL—La Liga, of course, being the other.

The remaining seven play in the EPL or Serie A, the world's fourth-best league by most accounts.

Klinsmann may have his limitations on the managerial end, as noted by longtime German national and Bayern Munich defender Philipp Lahm in his autobiography, Der Feine Unterschied (translation: "The Subtle Difference"), via Sporting News

"We practically only practiced fitness under Klinsmann. There was very little technical instruction and the players had to get together independently before the game to discuss how we wanted to play."

Klinsmann has also been outspoken in his criticism of MLS as it pertains to player development on the world stage. Despite this, Klinsmann took a total of 10 MLS regulars to Brazil, six more than Bob Bradley chose for South Africa in 2010, as per the Los Angeles Times.

For a soccer purist, the MLS is an easy target. It can readily be reduced to a victory-lap league for aging world stars like David Beckham or new enlistees Kaka (Orlando City) and David Villa (New York City FC).

Conversely, the league has been a proving ground for players like Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore and 2014 World Cup standouts Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City) and DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders).

But for every Yedlin, there is a Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), who woefully under-delivered when called upon in the U.S.'s round-of-16 match against Belgium. The MLS produces some quality but rarely cultivates world-class talent.

Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

The American mentality is rooted in sports metaphor. The U.S. military-industrial complex is built around a "win at all costs" philosophy, and Fortune 500 companies' imperialist tendencies mirror a kind of American football jock superiority.

As it pertains to soccer, look no further than this laughably sincere piece by Tim Cavanaugh of the National Review.

Tomas Rios also explores these socio-political talking points in this excellent piece from Sports On Earth.

A noted cooling in American soccer hate was felt this summer, but a further shift must occur for the USMNT to pursue loftier heights on the world stage.

Soccer is a sport that demands a sort of exclusive attention from its fanbase and is invariably the most popular sport in the nations that achieve World Cup glory. It's hard to make a case for soccer being any more than a fourth option in the U.S. (behind American football, baseball and basketballsorry, hockey fans).

Klinsmann has proved he is loyal to the U.S. cause in spite of his pointed German-ness. It could be argued that Klinsmann's intrinsic aim all along has been at World Cup 2018.

Much to the chagrin of Donovan fans, giving players like Yedlin (21), John Anthony Brooks (21) and Julian Green (19) valuable World Cup time was a chess move rather than a "win-now" checkers strategy.

The backbone of the U.S.'s current makeup consists of Tim Howard (35) and Clint Dempsey (31), who will likely not feature at World Cup 2018. Jermaine Jones and DaMarcus Beasley are both 32 years old.

Michael Bradley, Altidore and Fabian Johnson will be called upon to be the nucleus of Klinsmann's Russia campaign.

Longtime U.S. soccer supporters want both immediate and sustained results, so while in some sense the Brazil campaign was a measurable success—getting out of the group of death and proving the sport's increased market potential—losing in the round of 16 again was a bit disappointing.

Klinsmann must find a way to accept the limitations of his MLS-based talent while encouraging players to play in the best foreign leagues available to them.

Green is not likely to see much immediate first-team action with Bayern Munich, but it's clear that players of his emerging quality will be called upon for the Russian World Cup cycle.

Settle in, U.S. soccer fans new and old, it's going to be a bumpy ride on the road to Russia and beyond.