The USA's 2014 FIFA World Cup campaign was a wild success, and focus has inevitably turned to grading the team's performance in comparison to those of editions past.
The progress is strong and encouraging; clambering out of Group G with Germany, Portugal and national nemesis Ghana in second place to reach the knockout stages was all the public could truly ask for.
Asamoah Gyan, Christian Atsu, Kevin Prince-Boateng, Cristiano Ronaldo and more fell by the wayside as the USMNT surged through to face Belgium and force extra time before bowing out in the round of 16.
The rapid growth rate of U.S. football can be traced, largely, back to what Jurgen Klinsmann has brought to the "program" the country are running in the sport.
Awareness is up, enthusiasm is up and, critically, talent level is on the rise. But the U.S. remain a long, long way away from lifting the World Cup as victors for a few fundamental reasons.
Per the latest census, the USA is a nation of 317 million people and can win something if they put their mind to it.
The potential talent pool is so massive, so overwhelmingly superior to most countries that a serious injection of development, coaching and training from an early age would be the first step in becoming a footballing powerhouse.
The raw talent is there to be melded, but how many world-class players has the U.S. produced to date? Arguably up to three but also arguably none.
Michael Bradley is a good player, not a great one, while the best Americans have been goalkeepers—Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel and Tim Howard are firmly fixed in the U.S. pantheon.
Klinsmann is changing the way football works in America bit by bit, improving the facilities and demanding better standards. If his project is continued in the right hands, the U.S. can move forward with every World Cup.
Perhaps it's no coincidence that the best Americans are goalkeepers, as the "priority sports" in the USA all utilise the hands pretty heavily.
At best, football is challenging baseball for the third-most popular sport in the country and is still miles behind basketball and American football in the popularity leagues.
Much how the AFL take all the best Australia athletes and leave the Socceroos with what's left, the established culture in the USA dictates that the prime sportsmen are inducted into the top two or three sports and the rest are left behind.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck loved football as a kid, but there was never a chance of him passing up the chance to enter the NFL.
The financial considerations make this a tough culture to shake up, as even Clint Dempsey—arguably America's most successful footballing export in history—will earn just 30 or 40 percent of what a star quarterback will in the NFL.
For world-class athletes to emerge from the U.S. and find their way into football, it's not just the perception that must change.
MLS 'Retirement Home'
The unfortunate "retirement home" tag Major League Soccer has picked up is difficult to shake despite obvious progress being made. Inbound transfers such as Kaka (Orlando City), David Villa (New York City FC) and potentially Robinho (Orlando, per The Independent) stump the reputation rather than enhance it.
For every Kaka, there has to be five DeAndre Yedlins: players who use MLS as a bread-and-butter base for a fantastic potential career. Yedlin, of the Seattle Sounders, hasn't been in the league long but boasts the sort of athleticism and "spark" that gets you noticed.
If you look closely, there are more very serviceable players plying their trade in the States who don't truly receive the attention they deserve. Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Kyle Beckerman and more proved that at the 2014 World Cup.
Headline names such as Thierry Henry were an important initial profile boost, but MLS now needs to take on a persona of its own. It needs to be the home of fantastic homegrown U.S. talent—the sort that excites local fans and builds the sport's popularity.
Eventually they will leave MLS and flock to Europe for UEFA Champions League football, it's inevitable, but the stream of talent needs strengthening.
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