7214_usa_isi_bpi_km_belgium_usa_010714_082.2808165 Kieran McManus/isiphotos.com

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the U.S. in Brazil

Brian Sciaretta takes a look at the tournament that was, wondering what we learned, what could have been, and what's coming up in the future. You're going to want to read.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
July 02, 2014
11:09 AM
THE UNITED STATES national team's 2014 World Cup ended with a hard fought 2-1 loss in extra-time to Belgium.

Here are my instant reactions to the four games the U.S. played in Brazil.

The Bad: The U.S. team can and must do better than how it played the first 105 minutes.
Belgium outplayed the Americans for long stretches of the game. While Tim Howard provided one of the finest goalkeeping performances I have seen, it is never a good thing for a team to need its netminder to make as many big saves as Howard made.

Belgium is loaded with great players. Look at the clubs of its starting XI: Chelsea, Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Tottenham, Zenit, Manchester United, Wolfsburg, Napoli, Chelsea, Lille. But the U.S should be able to play better and still impose itself far more than it did Tuesday afternoon. Costa Rica found ways against Italy, Uruguay, and Greece. Mexico did against Brazil, Croatia, and even in its loss to a very powerful Holland team. The United States has been the best team in CONCACAF the past three years.

Compare the World Cup loss of the U.S. in 2002 to Germany and Belgium in 2014. Why wasn’t this year's squad able to go out with more of a fight throughout the entire game?

The Bad: Wondolowski’s miss covers up larger problem
The forward should have done better but dwelling on it misses the big picture. If the United States creates a reasonable and attainable number of scoring opportunities, it will likely finish off one. Wondolowski will bear the burden because his mistake was glaring but the bigger culprit is the entire team, which failed to create a reasonable number of chances thereby placing too much emphasis on one single chance.

The Bad: Donovan’s absence hurt
When Klinsmann cut Landon Donovan from the World Cup team, U.S. fans erupted with shock and disappointment. After a few days, there was a consensus to move on and for the most part, the topic died down. But now that the U.S.'s World Cup campaign is over, a decision of that magnitude can and should be reexamined.

Donovan is the type of player that thrives on counter attacking, crossing, and making effective runs in the box. He might not be the player he was four years ago but he is still capable of playing well. It is hard to get away from the fact he would have been useful at key moments against Germany and Belgium. Donovan would have fit very well into these games.

The Good: The team showed its potential and character in the final 15 minutes
Only after the United States fell behind 2-0 did it take the game to Belgium. Julian Green’s goal was brilliant, and the Americans could very well have equalized on several occasions.

Of course, it is fair to question why it took a late two-goal deficit to play up to its potential, but the positive is that the U.S. team’s potential is quite high. Despite Belgium’s elite talent, the opportunities were there the for the U.S. team. It just needs to be consistent.

Following the game, Jurgen Klinsmann spoke of the need for the team to learn to dictate the game. This addresses the correct problem. The confidence the team displayed in the last final 15 minutes should be a good starting point and a source of motivation to start the next cycle in September.

The Good: The kids are all right
Klinsmann played youngsters such as John Brooks, Julian Green, and DeAndre Yedlin. All three enjoyed strong performances and were not lost in the moment. As this cycle progresses, there will be heavy turnover as players like DaMarcus Beasley, Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones, and Clint Dempsey will likely need to be phased out.

The fearless mindset of these young players is encouraging to Klinsmann who might find that the next generation of American players will buy into his brand of coaching.

The Good: This tournament was a success
The U.S. made it out of the Group stage before but this was the most difficult group it ever had. While it could have played better against Germany and in the finale, we'll remember this tournament fondly once the disappointment fades.

The Good: The fan support was unprecedented. Now build on it
The 1994 World Cup was the first outpouring of support for the U.S. team but at that time there was no serious domestic league to build off of it. The team’s run to the quarterfinals of 2002 was hampered by the fact the games were in the middle of the night. 2010 World Cup was a good foundation but the 2014 tournament in Brazil was phenomenal. The television ratings, watch parties, and the overall enthusiasm were groundbreaking in the United States.

Some of these newcomers to the sport will continue to be casual World Cup-only fans but a percentage will become regular and passionate year-round fans. That is crucial to the sports future. More fans leads to better media attention and an improved overall soccer culture. When more people care, there is more accountability throughout MLS, U.S. Soccer, and at various youth levels. There is also more young players taking up the sport. It is a long process to bring soccer to the forefront of the American public, but it is also crucial.

In addition, MLS will have to seize on this swell of interest. A healthy domestic league is imperative for any kind of national team success. MLS has made great strides but now it has the wind at its back like never before. Will Don Garber be able to use this opportunity to give MLS a boost? Time will tell but this is an important time for the commissioner.

The Good: Next cycle is shaping up to be remarkably busy

The next cycle should be great years to be a fan of the U.S. national team and it is also the perfect time for new fans. For example, look at all of the potential major tournaments and youth tournaments that the United States could compete in over the next four years.

1) 2015 U-20 World Cup
2) 2015 Gold Cup
3) 2016 Olympics
4) 2016 Copa America Centenario
5) 2016 World Cup qualifying first stage
6) 2017 Confederations Cup (by virtue of winning either the 2015 Gold Cup or playoff)
7) 2017 Gold Cup
8) 2017 U-20 World Cup
9) 2017 Hexagonal World Cup qualifying
10) 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia

In addition to being exciting for the fans, it bodes well for Klinsmann to implement his long-term vision and have his players full prepared for the next World Cup.

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter and share your thoughts on his thoughts below.

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