If you follow the United States Men’s National Team closely, ask yourself this question: Are you more or less confident than you were when the World Cup draw was made on December 6, 2013 that the USA will advance from Group G?
Or how about this: How confident were you in the USMNT’s progression to the knockout round of the World Cup before the draw was made?
Back in 2013, the US went on an unprecedented run of success. Between June and September, in friendlies, World Cup qualifiers, and the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Jurgen Klinsmann’s team won fifteen out of sixteen games, twelve consecutively.
They won the Gold Cup in a walkover, outscoring their competition 20-4. They notched another “dos a cero” in Columbus in what was the national team’s biggest night on home soil since the 1994 World Cup.
The Americans beat Germany, won the Hex, and saved Mexico. They were ahead of teams like England in the FIFA World Rankings.
That four-month stretch won Jurgen Klinsmann four more years at the helm of the national team before any matches were played in the World Cup, the competition he will be judged on.
It isn’t controversial to say that the June-October stretch of 2013 was one of the best stretches in the history of the US national team.
So what happened?
Two months away from kickoff in Brazil, the Americans are in a precarious position. They’ve endured a tepid and frustrating pre-World Cup stretch, key players are struggling mightily, Klinsmann has fired his top assistant, and divides in the camp appear to have developed.
The goodwill and confidence from 2013 have been drained extensively, and a feeling of doubt seems to linger just under the surface of the national team.
The easiest prognosis for the doubt, of course, is the draw. The USA took a beating.
The Americans got Germany, a title threat, possibly the best team in Europe, and Klinsmann’s country and former team; Portugal, a recent perennial contender with Cristiano Ronaldo, and Ghana, the best African team in the tournament who has knocked the USA out of the last two tournaments.
As if that wasn’t enough, the US got the worst travel schedule of any team in the tournament, with a crucial game in the Amazon rainforest, and no games close to their base in Sao Paulo. Should we mention the distance between the camp and where the US will play their games?
But even before this killer draw, there were signs that everything wasn’t quite going to plan.
In the November 2013 international break, a European-based US team traveled to play Scotland and Austria. Klinsmann’s team labored in Europe, drawing 0-0 with Scotland, and losing to Austria while not scoring a single goal.
The offensive issues had a lot to do with Jozy Altidore.
When Klinsmann turned things around and began the winning streak, Altidore was the key. He broke his scoring duck against Germany, and went on to score in five straight starts for the US. He scored three game winners, and got a sublime hat trick in the come-from-behind win at Bosnia and Herzegovina.