Not many people thought it could come out of the “Group of Death,” yet the boys still advanced further than soccer powers Spain, England, Italy and Portugal.
In the end, the US lost in heartbreaking fashion to a superior Belgium team. While I am disappointed, I’m still proud of the team. They played their hearts out and never gave up, but didn’t have enough at the end to pull off another upset.
So what now?
That’s always the question that pops up after the World Cup. Every four years, soccer draws a lot of new fans, but no one has been able to figure out how to keep up the momentum.
You’ll hear a lot of people say to new potential soccer fans to follow the English Premier League. Others will try to use the opportunity to increase interest in Major League Soccer.
However, I have an even better option – keep following the USMNT.
Part of what draws people in this country to the World Cup is getting a chance to root for the US. There is a sense of pride with seeing us go up against the best the rest of the world has to offer. It’s the same reason the Olympics are so popular.
With the EPL, while the competition is great, you aren’t going to see many of the US players you’ve grown to love over the past few weeks. It’s also hard to root for a team that you need a map to find where they play.
The MLS could get a boost this go-round, because a lot of the USMNT stars have returned stateside to play. But there isn’t that excitement of playing against another country that boasts about being better than the US.
This is why I made the decision in 2009, during the USMNT’s improbable run in the Confederations Cup, to follow the team regularly. It’s a decision I’m glad I made.
Over the past four years, there has been a ton of excitement following the US. I was at the 2011 Gold Cup semifinals when the US won the game late. I watched the thrilling 0-0 draw in Mexico and the 1-0 win in the snow over Costa Rica in qualifying. And of course, I can’t forget “Dos a Cero” against Mexico to punch our ticket to Brazil.
I found extra satisfaction during this World Cup after watching the development of players like Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson and Graham Zusi. I could talk strategy about the team, having seen its strengths and weaknesses since Jurgen Klinsmann took over as coach. It honestly made this World Cup a lot more fun for me.
So when is the US actually in action between now and the 2018 World Cup? Here’s a quick look at some great times to put on your new USMNT jersey and head to the sports bar to cheer on the red, white and blue.
Gold Cup: July 7-26, 2015
This tournament determines the champion of CONCACAF. This tournament is especially important because it determines who will play in the 2017 Confederations Cup (more on this later).
In 2011, Mexico overcame a 2-0 deficit to beat the US for the championship. It also turned out to be the last stand for then US coach Bob Bradley.
The favorites in this tournament are always the US and Mexico, though the emergence of Costa Rica will likely make it a tougher road to the title game.
Copa America Centenario: June 3-26, 2016
This will be a huge event for the US to show that it can indeed be a contender for the World Cup in 2018.
Normally the Copa America is the South American championship tournament, with two non-CONMEBOL teams invited to participate. However, for its 100th anniversary, the tournament will feature six CONCACAF teams to go with CONMEBOL.
Another big development is this tournament will be hosted in the US. As a result, the USMNT receives an automatic berth and will have homefield advantage for most of the games.
With powers like Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay and Chile involved, a strong US showing will be a huge statement worldwide.
Confederations Cup: June 17-July 2, 2017
Of all of the tournaments leading up to the 2018 World Cup, this would be the most important for the US. But first, it has to qualify.
The US won the Gold Cup in 2013, which is big. If it wins the Gold Cup again next summer, the US would have an automatic berth in the next Confederations Cup. If another country wins, then the US will face them in a playoff for the Confederations Cup berth.
Only eight teams make the Confederations Cup, and are almost always the top squads in the world. Along with the stiff competition, the tournament is also held in the same country that will host the next World Cup. In this case, the Confederations Cup will be in Russia.
This tournament is a great barometer for how the teams could stack up heading into the World Cup the next year. Plus, don’t underestimate the importance of getting used to the locations and travel in Russia.
The US finished as runners-up in the 2009 Confederations Cup, beating Spain in the semifinals, before falling to Brazil, 3-2. The strong tournament gave the US a lot of confidence heading into the 2010 World Cup.
CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying: 2016-17
Oh yeah, there’s also this little thing called World Cup qualifying that the US has to go through if it even wants to be in Russia in 2018.
While the US is always a favorite to claim one of the three/four CONCACAF berths for the World Cup, it is hardly a given. In fact, the US had to win its last game in the third round over Guatemala just to advance to the final stage of CONCACAF qualifying.
Hopefully, with Klinsmann in place for a second cycle, there won’t be as much drama qualifying for the next World Cup.
As you can see, there are a lot of opportunities between now and 2018 to root for the US. If you enjoyed watching soccer the past few weeks, I encourage you to take this route to continue following Team USA. Trust me, in four years, you’ll be glad you did.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON THE USMNT RUN
• I’ve seen a lot of people criticizing Klinsmann’s lineup changes the past few games, especially for the Belgium contest. However, I think those critics are forgetting one thing – the Jozy Altidore injury was an absolute killer.
Altidore was one of the centerpieces to the US attack. With him out, Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley both had to move further up the formation and out of their natural positions. Had Altidore not been hurt, we would have seen a more offensive effort from the US in the tournament.
• I was impressed with the class Belgium showed. When the US fell behind to Ghana in extra time of the 2010 World Cup, the Black Stars went into total stall tactics, faking injuries and trying to run off as much clock as possible.
When Belgium took the lead, it didn’t resort to those cheap tactics. It kept playing the game, even when the US was attempting a frantic comeback at the end.
I wish more teams showed the class Belgium did.
• Tim Howard was amazing. If it was his final World Cup match, what a way to go out!
• We saw with the performances of DeAndre Yedlin, Julien Green and John Brooks that the future is bright for the USMNT. I’m going to enjoy watching those guys develop over the next four years.
• I’m fine with some people not liking soccer. It’s not a sport for everyone. However, I wish they wouldn’t feel the need to announce all the time how much they hate the game.
Look, I’m not a NASCAR fan. I’ve never watched a full race and probably never will. But you don’t see me criticizing people that do watch it.
If you don’t want to watch the sport, then don’t. Just don’t constantly tell everyone you hate it. It’s unneeded.
• My World Cup final prediction: Colombia 3, Netherlands 2.