Days before the World Cup final, chat across the U.S. of A was at fever pitch. The phone-ins and rolling sports news on television had one core theme. Unfortunately for the world of soccer, though, it wasn’t the future direction of the U.S. national side or the ultimate destination of the World Cup trophy, although there certainly was still interest in the Germany vs Argentina duel.
No siree Bob, what really mattered was where LeBron James was going next, having walked away from the fading glamour of NBA outfit Miami Heat. It was extraordinarily big news. Imagine Leo Messi skulking away from Barcelona and heading off to pastures new without a transfer fee having to be paid, and you would have an idea of the significance of the Big Decision in a country where basketball and NFL are still joint kings.
To be blunt, there wasn't a lot of hand-wringing or fist-pumping over the future of Team USA, and what can be done to move things along a bit in four years' time in Russia. This lack of chatter is only partly due to the lower priority that soccer is given in the general U.S. sports verse below the big beasts of football (yeah, that other one), basketball and baseball.
The other reason is that the U.S. were thought to have done rather well, considering their low expectations in the Group of Death with Ghana, Germany and Portugal. Indeed, the only one of the four matches that Jurgen Klinsmann’s side lost in 90 minutes was against the eventual champions. The immediate future looked fairly secure, so no need for a big hullabaloo.
Team USA captured hearts in Brazil – but perhaps not long-term minds
The U.S. Federation's decision to award the talismanic Klinsmann a contract extension to 2018, before the World Cup kicked off, already looks like a smart move. Especially when considering that the German played a big role in overhauling football in his native country, which all turned out rather well. This has not gone without being keenly noticed; the vibe in the U.S. is “in Klinsmann we trust”, so let’s let him work in peace.
The main tasks for the coach are to ease out the older generation of players like Jermaine Jones, and try to give youngsters like DeAndre Yedlin as much time and opportunity as possible. As Max Babson, a “cautiously optimistic” Portland Timbers supporter who followed the team around Brazil told FourFourTwo, “the group looked effective. We should let all the changes take effect.” He is worried, however, that the country is lacking a creative spark in midfield to take the side up a notch in the international game.
The strength and the quality of MLS may be a bit of a red herring in terms of its impact on the U.S. side, with Klinsmann preferring his players to have top-level European experience and going toe-to-toe with Cristiano Ronaldo rather than Kaká. However, an increased number of teams giving more opportunities to youngsters, as well as higher-quality imports like David Villa and perhaps Frank Lampard, certainly can’t do any harm.
Team USA are likely to fall back into the shadows for the next four years, in stark contrast to a three-week period when the players genuinely were front-page heroes. That is probably where Klinsmann will prefer to be, however, as he beavers away revamping his team for another return to the limelight in Russia.