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2013 in Review

5 Reasons U.S. Soccer Fans Should Give Thanks

There will be plenty of time for cynicism and criticism tomorrow, and next week, and the week after that. Today we focus on the positives, and American soccer fans have plenty to cheer about.

BY John Godfrey Posted
November 28, 2013
11:45 AM

5. The Depth Chart

Take a look at the current ASN 100. See that top row? Those seven players are all studs. Go to the row below that now. More of the same. In fact, if you just grabbed the top 23 players on the ranking as your 2014 World Cup roster, the squad would look like this:

GOALKEEPERS
Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando
DEFENDERS
Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, DaMarcus Beasley, Clarence Goodson, John Brooks
MIDFIELDERS
Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, Fabian Johnson, Graham Zusi, Jermaine Jones, Sacha Kljestan, Mix Diskerud, Kyle Beckerman
FORWARDS
Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Aron Johannsson, Eddie Johnson, Herculez Gomez, Terrence Boyd

That's an impressive bunch, with competition at every position—including goalkeeper. And with folks like Alejandro Bedoya (No. 25), Steve Cherundolo (No. 31), Danny Williams (No. 37), and Eric Lichaj (No. 42) all pushing to make the roster, this is quite possibly the deepest squad in U.S. soccer history.

Is it the best-ever American player pool? Time will tell. Brazil will be the gauge. But U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has more legitimate options at his disposal than any of his predecessors.

4. A Record-Setting Year

In 2013 the United States men's national team set all-time bests in wins (16), winning percentage (.761), goal differential (+28), and average goals per game (2.2). A glass-half-empty guy might look at those numbers and note that the Americans fattened up with a few easy opponents (Guatemala, Belize, Cuba, El Salvador) in and around the Gold Cup. True enough, but the Yanks also played Germany (ranked No. 2 by FIFA), Belgium (No. 11), Bosnia-Herzegovina (No. 21), Mexico twice (No. 20), and Costa Rica (No. 31) three times.

The Americans' record against those top-tier opponents? Five wins, two losses, and one tie. Not bad.

The calendar year may have ended on a bit of a down note with the scoreless draw against Scotland and the 1-0 loss to Austria, but the Yanks will close out 2013 as the No. 14 team in the world—ahead of Croatia, France, Mexico, Russia, and yes, Ghana.

3. This Team Should Get Better in 2014

Believe it or not, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, and Landon Donovan have never played together since Klinsmann took over the U.S. national team in July 2011.

That's just bananas.

And there's no reason to believe that this unhappy trend will continue in the coming months. Altidore is out the doghouse, Donovan likes soccer again and has renewed his vows with the national team, and the extremely dedicated Bradley and Dempsey will have ample opportunity to recover from nagging injuries and get back into top form.

Put this quartet on the pitch together, give them a few weeks to train ahead of the World Cup, and the United States becomes a much more dangerous team. Subtract Eddie Johnson from the Starting XI, add in a sniper like Aron Johannsson, and all of a sudden the U.S. looks like a team that can give opposing defenses a lot to worry about.

2. Aron Johannsson is a Yank

Look at his statistics with the U.S. national team and you may be inclined to shrug. Six appearances, two starts, 213 minutes played, one goal.

Despite these underwhelming numbers, Aron Johannsson already looks like the most dangerous player in the American player pool. He is fast, smart, technically sound, and, as the videos below indicate, clinical in front of goal.

Aron Johannsson (AGF) - Goals in 2012 from Total Football on Vimeo.

Johannsson's decision to represent the United States internationally looked like a big deal when it was announced, and it looks like an even bigger deal now. Will the Iceman see meaningful minutes in Brazil? He absolutely deserves to. But whether it happens all comes down to one man....

1. Jurgen Klinsmann

  • He left Sunil Gulati at the altar at least once, and kept us waiting longer than necessary before taking the reins.

  • He got off to a slow start with the national team, finishing 2011 with two wins, four losses, and a tie.

  • He keeps scheduling games against Canada for some reason. The games end 0-0, and are always boring.

  • He is not a tactical wizard, according to Philip Lahm.

  • He seems to favor Seattle Sounders, and when he calls them into the U.S. national team he tends to play them out of position.

  • He was publicly (and anonymously) humiliated by his own players, some of whom labeled him a poor manager and leader.

    And despite all of that, the United States men's soccer team finished first in the Hexagonal and went undefeated in winning the 2013 Gold Cup. There's no doubt about it—the team is on the upswing as we approach a World Cup year. The relentlessly optimistic Jurgen Klinsmann has endured plenty during his 28 months on the job, and he has improved steadily along the way.

    Klinsmann's handling of the Jozy Altidore work-ethic/attitude crisis was perfection. The coach won. Altidore changed his ways. And it's no coincidence Altidore went on to score 31 goals across all competitions that season.

    Klinsmann dealt with Landon Donovan's 2013 Cambodian Tour/Career Ennui Episode similarly well, giving Donovan the space he needed and a clear path back into the team.

    I don't always agree with Klinsmann's personnel choices, and too often his team's start off slow and have to scramble to get back into games. But Klinsmann has slowly, surely, confidently reinvented the United States national team. It's his squad now, and the future is bright.

    So tell us, American soccer fans, what are you thankful for? The comments section is open for business. John Godfrey is the founder and editor in chief of American Soccer Now.
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