There were plenty of positives to take out of the USMNT‘s foursome of games in Brazil even after being ousted from the tournament on Tuesday. Jurgen Klinsmann‘s squad left everything out on the pitch and never was out of any games, despite being out-classed in three of four contests. But most importantly the United States managed to get out of one the World Cup‘s most imposing groups, advancing to the Round of 16 for the second straight World Cup.
That feat, an American first, is nothing to look past, and rather than name off the seven other nations that have equated the accomplishment of making it to the 2010 and 2014 knockout stages, it’s better to list off the underachievers that did not. The list includes former world champions Spain, Italy, France and England, as well as Portugal, Switzerland and Colombia from the top ten of the FIFA World Rankings.
This 2014 version of Team USA was easy to root for and even more entertaining to watch, captivating the nation for the last two weeks. Their exit against Belgium was expected by most, but their never-give-up attitude and effort left America proud of what they accomplished.
However, now is not the time to be jubilant and high-fiving while the USMNT’s door closes in the Round of 16. It is time for the USA to be fed up with being just “good” and start being one of the world-class teams they have been striving to be for what seems like forever.
In 2002, in South Korea, the United States made an unprecedented run in their modern World Cup history, advancing to the knockout stages outside of home soil for the first time since the Hoover administration. Along the way a U.S. team that was ranked 13th in the world and featured 13 MLSers defeated North American adversary Mexico “dos a cero” in the Round of 16 before bowing out to Germany 1-0 in a controversial quarterfinal defeat.
Flash forward to the present and the United States are once again ranked 13th in the FIFA World Rankings, had 10 players on MLS rosters on the 23 instead of a baker’s dozen and saw their run end in the first game of the knockout stages. If 2002 was the blueprint, 2014 was a downgrade.
Promise is one thing that America always has going for it. There is always the belief that with soccer’s popularity increasing, television rights and ratings never higher and 300 million residents, the United States will one day be among the world’s top federations.
And for the last decade we have seen the promise of can’t-miss up-and-comers on the way to national team stardom. Prominent example: Freddy Adu. Even the casual sports fan will be able to tell who Adu is, the once boy wonder who, at 25, has seen his national team call-ups go seemingly past its expiration date. (Adu update: Adu, without a club since November, lately got a bone thrown to him by former USMNT coach Bob Bradley and has been training with Bradley’s current team Stabaek in Norway for the last few weeks.)
2018 vows to possibly be the quadrennial that the U.S. can get back to the quarterfinals. Klinsmann’s once contentious 21-and-under trio of John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin and Julian Green proved they belonged in Brazil, and four years from now they could be mainstays on the 2018 World Cup squad. But if promise is one thing, deliverance is absolutely another. If the USMNT is to be among the best on the world’s biggest football stage, another exit in the Round of 16 is not going to cut it.