Since the USA’s elimination at the hands of Belgium in the World Cup Round of 16, the question that everyone is asking is this: Is the US better off than it was four years ago?
It’s a legitimate question to ask. The USA went out of the World Cup at the exact same juncture as it did four years ago in South Africa, and by the exact same score line in extra time. But if everybody would just calm down for a few seconds, they would all realize that the US is definitely much better off than it was four years ago.
At the last World Cup the USA were in a ridiculously soft group. The English press even billed it as EASY (England, Algeria, Slovenia, Yanks). The USA could have feasibly picked up seven out of a possible nine points from this group with minnows like Slovenia and Algeria, and one of the weakest England teams ever (this year’s England team was the weakest ever). Instead, the US were gifted an equalizer in the first game, had a winning goal stolen from them in the second, and left it until the last possible second to advance in the third game. Five points was enough to top that group which speaks volumes about what a weak group it was.
This time around the United States had Jurgen Klinsmann in charge, he instilled a belief in the team and their fan base. When the draw took place and the US was in with Ghana, Portugal and Germany that faith was tested, it was perfectly reasonable for some to expect the US to get zero points out of this group. The fact is the US won their first game, choked away two points right at the end in the second game, and gave a good account of themselves in the third game attests to the strides the U.S. Soccer has made since hiring Klinsmann. Yes, the US was eliminated in the Round of 16 by a score of 2-1 in extra time, but even down 2-0 it never felt like the US was done. Four points from this group felt like nine.
When Ghana scored the go ahead goal four years ago, everybody from the players to the coaching staff to the fans, knew the game was up. There was no real effort to try to take the game to Ghana and force penalties. They just threw in the towel in a very un-American sort of way. This year when Julian Green pulled one back, everybody threw everything they had into trying to get an equalizer. The fans believed and the players came so close, but in the end it was not enough.
Jurgen Klinsmann has done so much to try to make U.S. Soccer into a genuine world power at this game. He has gotten some fantastic results (first win at Italy, first win at Mexico, first qualifying win at Jamaica, second qualifying draw at Mexico, finally beat Ghana) is his tenure as head coach. He has also greatly expanded the player pool. Not only has he combed the world over looking for dual nationals, but he has tapped into MLS for more than his predecessor, Bob Bradley, did. Even though not all of them players were especially young (Chris Wondolowski, Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones) their were enough young players that the future looks bright.
Four years ago American fans were left wondering if the US could ever compete at the World Cup. This time around American fans are already chomping at the bit for the next World Cup.