Wow. When was the last time a US men’s soccer match provided so many positive talking points? The win over Spain at the 2009 Confederations Cup?
Congratulations US fans. You just witnessed the red and white stripes romp over a not-that-bad Scotland team. Here are some of the top stories to take from the recently-concluded match in Jacksonville:
Take a bow, Mr. Donovan. Take a bow. In a week when Donovan was making headlines, though not necessarily “for all the wrong reasons,” the US’s all-time leading scorer stole the show Saturday night.
Donovan this week was talking about the end of his career even though it is obvious to anyone watching that he has several years left at the near-top of his game.
Donovan showed his still-dangerous speed on the break, his vision and incisive passing and the killer instinct that led to 46 international goals prior to tonight.
I think it is likely that LD returns to the LA Galaxy with a little more fire in his belly than recent months. Though, there are now more than whispers that even Donovan himself is thinking that a move away from LA may be best for all concerned.
General Bradley. Donovan gets the headlines, but another player was arguably just as dominant as Donovan.
Bradley just finished a banner season in Serie A and showed why even the mighty Internazionale Milano are being linked with the young star.
Basically all criticisms of a young, immature Bradley have been erased by his steady progression on the field. Bradley earns the most praise these days for addressing his weaknesses and turning them into strengths.
Bradley showed his intelligence and soft first touch in the middle of the field. He only went to ground when the play dictated so. He exhibited his abilities in the final third, both on his screaming volley into the upper 90 and the direct assist to Donovan.
Think about this, the US’s best three players in South Africa were arguably Donovan, Dempsey and Bradley. Right now, they may all be playing even better in their own respects.
System overload. The first four months under Juergen Klinsmann were not the most pleasant for US fans. A 1-4 record and a total of one goal scored was the immediate reward for a change of coaching regimes.
Now, to follow up a 1-0 defeat of Italy, the US just blasted Scotland 5-1. It can’t be a culmination of Klinsmann’s new system since players like Altidore and Dempsey were not even on the field, but it is the result of nine months of scheming, teaching and learning by everyone in the USMNT.
First and foremost was, not Donovan, but the three central midfielders’ performances. Bradley, Edu and Jones played in a way that previously only existed in the dreams of US fans since Jones made the switch from Germany.
All three floated across the field, cutting down Scotland’s attacks and then racing forward on the break. Jones’ long strides could be seen galloping down upon the Scottish defense on numerous occasions.
Bradley, Edu and Jones dominated the center of the park, but Scotland was assaulted by pressure coming from all over the field. Donovan, Torres and Boyd were unrelenting. Cherundolo and especially Fabian Johnson provided yet another wave of attacking verve in the final third.
An added long-term benefit is that the US player pool is poised to heap depth upon an already lethal lineup. Shea, Gatt, Gyau, Corona, Lichaj and still possibly Timothy Chandler are among a number of USMNT prospects still coming up through the ranks with varying amounts of international experience.
HOME field advantage. Often times, a US home game has looked disappointingly similar to a road match. Not Saturday night in Jacksonville.
A record southeastern crowd of 44,000+ cheered the US on to victory. The support the team has received in Nashville, Florida, Philadelphia, etc. has provided more and more evidence that this isn’t your….older brother’s US team.
Donovan with Gatorade, Dempsey with Nike, Bradley in Serie A, five different club captains in the squad and larger pro-US crowds are all evidence pointing to a higher profile US team than ever before.
I don’t know if I would go as far as others in calling this team fully “mainstream,” but better home crowds could provide the US an extra boost in this cycle of World Cup qualifying.
World Cup destination. And that is the ultimate goal: qualifying for the World Cup. With the way the US performed against Italy and Scotland, it is tough to imagine the US having difficult qualifying for Brazil 2014, but qualifiers are a totally different beast.
US fans have felt the pain of seeing the US men shredded in the final 70 minutes of the 2011 Gold Cup final, the US Under-20 national team fail to qualify for the World Cup and, most recently, witnessing the heartbreaking loss by the Olympic team in the group stages of the qualifying tournament.
The US senior team was able to shake up that recent string of disappointment with Saturday’s thrashing of Scotland. In 13 days, the US will be back to playing “games that matter” and begin the process of trying to avoid “disaster.”
Qualifying is not a short process, and definitely not an easy one. Klinsmann’s approach is aimed at avoiding complacency. The US will have to have a short memory with games like Saturday’s and learn from the disappointments that always come. Then of course, if they qualify, expectations will mount once again.