USA Men's Soccer World Cup Qualification Still A Work in Progress
The US Men's soccer team is still shaking off the effects of a disastrous six years under Jurgen Klinsmann. The German took the US national team backwards, rather than the forward direction nearly everyone expected him to take the stars and stripes in. Although he left with a 50%-win percentage, Klinsmann's US soccer team was painful to watch for its ineptitude.
The team's World Cup 2014 run may have excited US fans, but the team was pitiful on the pitch. The country's loss to Belgium in the knockout stage shows the massive gulf between a real international soccer contender and Klinsmann's US pretenders.
The Road to Russia
The US national team's World Cup qualification for Russia 2018 looked to be stalled under Klinsmann, but since his removal last November and the re-hiring of Bruce Arena, the team has improved steadily. Arena has brought a feel-good factor back to the national team, and his US soccer player knowledge has already helped the country in the qualification for next year's World Cup finals.
Since Arena's return, the US is undefeated in World Cup qualification, even drawing 1-1 with archrival Mexico. That result came south of the border where the US has won just one time in the team's history. Although the US is in a better position to qualify for Russia, the team isn't out of the woods, yet. The US sits in third place on eight points in the group, just one point better than Panama and three better than Honduras. The US must finish in third place at the very least, because if it doesn't, Arena's men run the risk of playing a two-match playoff against the fifth-place team from the Asian Confederation. That is a scenario that could see the US miss out on a World Cup for the first time since the late 1980s.
Gold Cup 2017
The US is currently in the midst of the CONCACAF Gold Cup as it takes a break from World Cup qualification. The US were far from dominant in the tournament's group stage, but that was expected with the likes of American soccer wunderkind Christian Pulisic not selected for the competition. The 18-year-old is preparing for the German Bundesliga with club side Borussia Dortmund. Pulisic is the future of American soccer, and at 18, is playing at the highest level; something no other US player can say. Without the teen, the US looks more one dimensional.
The US is not a shoo-in to win the Gold Cup, and the stars and stripes will face stiff competition against Costa Rica in the semi-finals tonight. The Costa Ricans are one of the most underrated international soccer teams today. In fact, Costa Rica sits ahead of the Americans in World Cup qualifying. Although US soccer fans will hope for another Gold Cup final showdown against Mexico, it is still not a certainty that the two will both be in Santa Clara, California for the July 26th final. The US missed out on the Gold Cup final in 2015, and finished fourth under Klinsmann.
Of course, the big prize for the US is to qualify for Russia 2018, and there are four more matches on the road to qualification. Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago, all stand in the way of Arena and his rejuvenated squad. It is a tough row to hoe, but the Americans are in a better position for the World Cup now than under Klinsmann's guidance.