Looking Back / Looking Forward With Jon
My favorite moment of 2011 was quickly obscured by a terrible collapse. Foolishly, I believed that Landon Donovan’s smart finish of a Dempsey feed in the first half of the Gold Cup Final against Mexico would hold up and that the US was on the way to another regional title and another Confederations Cup berth. It was a great moment, celebrating loudly in a crowded bar with fellow fans. But it turned sour as the game quickly turned the other way and we were outclassed the rest of the match – losing 4-2. The result sparked the end of Bob Bradley’s tenure and paved the way for the hiring of Jurgen Klinsmann as the new boss. The result was a fitting end to a run that had seen Bradley’s team become progressively less organized and disciplined.
The German coach’s hire was, for me, the most intriguing story in American soccer in 2011, and has led to no end of overanalysis of the team and its players and tactics over ultimately meaningless friendly matches. The friendlies over the next few months – against Italy, Brazil, Canada, and Scotland will be interesting dress rehearsals for my most anticipated story of 2012 – the start of World Cup qualifying.
As players and coaches – and for us as fans – all the marginal stuff recedes to the background and you play for results and results alone. Following a team as they move through the qualifying process during two years and over a dozen matches is one of the most rewarding experiences a sports fan can have. The team will evolve and progress, take big steps forward and fall back disappointingly. Players will emerge as stars and then fade. You’ll be comfortable after some matches and worried sick after others. And if you stay with this roller coaster all the way to the first match Brazil in 2014, you’ll think back to how it all started in a with too-few people watching in a too-big stadium in Tampa against a little island nation called Antigua and Barbuda on June 8th of 2012 – and when you feel that tinge of pride as our boys take the field for their first group match, you’ll have earned it.
Our USMNT writer Jon is on Twitter at @jcg9879