If lightning must strike, as my mistaken partner here suggested, I believe it will. Maybe (probably) because of a little luck, but more likely because the United States is a factory of luck. We’re Blake from Glengarry Glen Ross. We’re ruthless. Call it a belief in American Exceptionalism, but when has the United States acquiesced on anything? (By the way, that’s the real reason the world hates us, and that’s why we can’t get home field officiating even in our own country – call that conspiracy, if you must.)
The United States Men’s National Team will win the World Cup.
Pat believed we could win a World Cup by 2014. I was never so bright eyed. Frankly, I think he’s suffering from some soccer shortsightedness – Myopia Nullam, so to speak. (Thanks, Google Translate!)
We’re not good enough to win a World Cup on talent. Of course not. Fortunately, talent alone is not what lifts World Cup trophies. Disagree? Why does Argentina, a country that can call Maradona AND Messi its own, have only two wins? How can the Netherlands – the land of Total Football and the home of Johan Cryuff, the man arguably most responsible for the way today’s game is coached and played – never get their hands on a trophy? How is it that Wales – a country that has created Ian Rush, Ryan Giggs (greatest left midfielder I think I’ve ever seen), Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey – have trouble even making the World Cup?
What you need to win the World Cup is a combination of very high talent, relentless determination and a cohesive structure that allows you to overcome or eliminate those individual players who are better than you.
Who has all three of those? (Hint: they toyed with the USMNT, humiliated Brazil, contained Messi and lifted the World Cup all in a matter of weeks in 2014.)
Germany is the perfect model of how a team wins the World Cup. Aside from Manuel Neuer, no one on their team was the very best in the world at his respective position during the 2014 World Cup. Even Mesut Özil at the remarkable level at which he’s been playing over that last 14 months can’t replace Messi.
By skill, Germany is a very good team. Certainly Top Ten. Probably Top Five. Champions? No.
So how does this matter to the USMNT? We’re already the hardest-working team. We’re already a team that never gives up. We’ve already got kids who are talented and can beat Brazilians, Argentinians and kids from other talent hotbeds around the world. Give us some world-level talents? Give us some kids who progress from ingenue to superstar? We’ll become the country we are in every other sport.
And that future is getting closer. More Americans are signing with clubs as kids. More Americans are getting playing time at young ages (see: Pulisic, Christian, and Gooch, Lyndon). More kids are choosing their American bloodlines and bringing their talent to our youth teams (Did you know George Weah’s son plays for our U-17s?).
Meanwhile, we’re becoming more and more competitive with Mexico for dual-nationals. And those are just the players we most focus on. Imagine if Giuseppe Rossi, Neven Subotić or Vedad Ibešević had chosen to represent the United States. How much longer till guys who would be welcome in any country’s lineup choose us over their other options? (Looking at you, Özil. Didn’t choose Turkey, did you?)
So we know we have the determination, and there’s a plausible path to the talent. What about the cohesive structure?
I’ll bow to Pat’s argument here about the coaching talent. We don’t have it and don’t have a shortcut path to it. Currently, we’re circumventing it by sending players overseas, but that’s a stopgap. We can’t depend on such methods to handle the number of players a country our size could produce.
Hopefully, Bob Bradley’s tenure at Swansea leads to more Americans getting chances overseas, and that his qualities and commitment serve as lessons for coaches at home.
On the field, we may be making progress. (Not to be pie-in-the-sky here, I question Klinsmann’s efforts too.) His defensive lineups can still leave much to be desired and often lack a connection between offense and defense; his attacking lineups have shown struggles as well, but there have been some positive showings – the destruction of Costa Rica in this summer’s Copa America and the second half vs Germany in 2015 being two stand outs.
So where does this leave us? Much closer to a World Cup trophy than I think it seems. I wrote a sports column in college that the US must become tougher and more physical in order to compete with the rest of the world. It was the best option at the time, in my opinion, and I stand by the sentiment. But that was when we had overwhelming heart but little talent at almost every position.
Watching the quality of our youth teams improve, and the number of younger players growing overseas, I always thought 2018 would be our first real World Cup – the first time where we could finally play the game. Not win it, yet. But the first time we’d finally have real talent to play off guys like Michael Bradley or Landon Donovan or John O’Brien or Tab Ramos or… That we wouldn’t be dependent on one player to create everything, so teams couldn’t just set themselves up to block that player or couple players. We’d finally see fewer long balls, better first touches, ability to dribble around defenders, etc.
I still think a semi-final performance is out of our reach in 2018, but it’s getting closer. And with team changeover and player progression, where could we be by 2026? What if we were looking at our first World Cup in our second time as hosts? (Yes, I know I’m making two leaps there.) That would sure make my attendance at the USMNT’s first World Cup victory easier! Cause I will be there when that happens.
P.S. As someone born in St. Louis and who has called Milwaukee home for 30 years, I cannot abide equating the USMNT and the Chicago Cubs. Go Indians.