It was an interesting transition year for the Yanks, as the team that will be representing the US at the next World Cup began to take shape. We saw coaching changes, some key additions and plenty of disappointing moments that will leave fans desperate for success.
While there were some bright spots to 2011, many USMNT fans will be remember the past 12 months as some of the worst we have seen since the 1990 revival.
However, failure is not always a bad thing, and you will see that 2011 should be remembered as more than just some defensive mistakes and off-target shots. Here is the USMNT Year in Review.
FIFA Ranking: 34 (Started in January at No. 18)
Tournament Performances: Runners-up at 2011 Gold Cup
Best Performance: 1-1 Tie vs Argentina in New Meadowlands, NJ
Worst Performance: 0-4 Loss to Spain in Foxborough, MA
The Phases of the Year:
The End of the Bob Bradley Era
Word to Describe Phase: "Inevitable"
When the USSF re-signed the controversial coach after the 2010 World Cup, it came as a bit of a surprise to most USMNT fans. History shows that the longer a coaching tenure goes, the poorer the results get, so commiting to a mediocre coach for another World Cup cycle seemed like the absolute wrong decision at the time.
And it still seemed like a bad call 10 months later when the USMNT was embarrassed by Spain, Panama and Mexico all at home in a one-month period that featured some of the worst play in US Soccer history. The US’ bad habits that plagued the team just a year before at the World Cup had gone unsolved, and to make matters worse, the team lacked the fire inside their bellies and failed to perform the dramatic late-game victories that we all know and love.
The team needed a change, and the 4-2-4 record (wins against Panama, Canada, Jamaica, Guadeloupe) showed that.
Experimental Stages of Klinsmann Era
Word to Describe Phase: "Experimental"
While the record may not show an improvement, USMNT fans shouldn’t be losing too much sleep over the opening struggles to the Klinsmann era.
Many of us fell victim to Jurgen’s resume and prestige and expected an immediate impact on the playing field. That was unfair of us, for this was simply an experimental period. A period where Klinsmann could get a feel for the player pool and figure out who he wanted to represent the USA three years from now at the next World Cup.
His foreign relationships and ability to steal multiple talented German-American prospects is unprecedented in US soccer history, and his prestige can attract a whole new level of mixed-breed Americans that would never have even thought about playing for the federation prior to his arrival.
Although Klinsmann’s candy tastes sour now, we will all be thankful for the experience when we are living sweet success in just a few years.
German Surprise: Klinsmann's ability to bring in foreign talents is something never done before in American soccer history. We will all be thankful for Timothy Chandler, Fabian Johnson and Danny Williams at the next World Cup.
Shea Shines: Shea played very well in his first couple of caps for the the USMNT and has been a key member of the attack since Klinsmann took over. Get used to hearing his name on your television set from now on.
The Return of Gooch: The much-anticipated return of Oguchi Onyewu to the USMNT squad occurred, and with great success, as the big man was a rock in the back at the end of the year for the Yanks.
American Success Abroad: Jozy Altidore's emergence at AZ Alkmaar, Clint Dempsey's stunning form for Fulham and the incredible number of USMNT players training abroad this winter is a step in the right direction for the team.
Highlights of the Year
Jozy's Wondergoal: Jozy Altidore’s wondergoal against Guadeloupe was certainly one of the best moments of the year.
Freddy Adu’s Emergence: USA fans got a taste of the amazing potential this kid has always had in the final two games of the Gold Cup. However, once we all got used to seeing Freddy back in red, white and blue, the coaching change has done nothing but left his phone on the hook.
Agudelo Becomes Household Name: Juan Agudelo’s goal against Argentina that set the Twitter community ablaze was one to remember.
Spanish Humiliation: No one really expected the US to go out last June in Foxborough and up-end the recently crowned World Cup champs, but the humiliation that the USMNT endured during Spain’s 4-0 friendly rout was surely an unexpected result. The “wake-up call” defeat hinted that the team quite possibly needed a change of leadership on the sidelines.
The Panama Disaster: While the US still managed to reach the Gold Cup finals, it was the first time in tournament history that the Yanks failed to win their group thanks to a lackluster 2-1 defeat to Panama. Immediately after the loss, fans called for Bob Bradley’s head, and his job security was about as low as a coach could live on.
Gold Cup Final Collapse: Going up two goals to nil and celebrating like champions before letting in four straight to lose to arch-rival Mexico in the Gold Cup final was a moment we all would like to forget, Jonathan Bornstein especially.
It was an interesting year for the USMNT, as coaching changes and roster transformations kept the team from achieving what is annually expected of them. For every memorable Agudelo Argentina goal, there seemed to be twice as many defensive blunders or missed opportunities done by the USMNT.
Fortunately, the year could afford to be full of wasted performances, as friendly losses did nothing more than drop the USMNT a few spots in the FIFA rankings. While the Gold Cup loss was disappointing, it led to the absolutely necessary and overdue coaching change to Jurgen Klinsmann, who, in the long run, will make this team better than ever before. The bad moments of this year will only make the great moments of next year feel that much better!
Speaking of next year, here are some top stories to follow heading into the January camp:
Will Charlie Davies finally return to USMNT camp after a successful MLS season?
Will Freddy Adu, Mixx Diskeruud and Omar Gonzalez get their first chances in the Klinsmann regime?
What role will Landon Donovan play in the upcoming World Cup qualifying campaign?
Follow Ned Harwood @RBStampede