Editorial (June 14, 2019) — This will be a crucial summer for U.S. Soccer. One year removed from the disaster of failing to qualify for the FIFA World Cup in Russia, the U.S Men’s National Team must begin to heal those wounds. The 2019 Gold Cup will give them their first competitive action in 20 months.
New coach Gregg Berhalter has selected a team with a mix of younger talent, while still having spots for a few of the holdovers from the previous regime.
U.S. Soccer faces crucial Summer
Just a week ago the mood around U.S Soccer was decidedly different. The senior squad was prepping for their warm-up friendlies before the Gold Cup. Meanwhile, the youth team was in the quarterfinals of the U-20 World Cup. Things have changed in the past seven days, and not in a good way.
The youngsters lost a tough contest with Ecuador last Saturday. That ended a solid run at the tournament, but also feeling like a missed opportunity. After stunning the competition favorite France in the Round of 16, they failed to advance any further. The senior squad had two putrid performances in losses to Jamaica and Venezuela.
A Bad Look
International friendlies are seen as exhibitions, and it can be hard to draw conclusions from them. However, the two losses heading in to Berhalter’s first tournament in charge did nothing to inspire confidence or optimism. The team looked flat and lost in both matches.
The 1-0 loss to a CONCACAF member in Jamaica was uninspired, but most of the team playing that night were on the fringes of making this squad. The embarrassment three days later at the hands of a lower tier South American nation was much more concerning.
There was little to be proud of in that match. The defense was shredded by some simple direct play twice, after gifting the first goal with sloppy play out the back. As upsetting as it was to see the defense undone so easily, the teams lack of any fluidity going forward stuck out as more worrisome.
For two straight matches, the Americans struggled to connect on multiple passes or build anything threatening in attack. The two Gold Cup warm ups did nothing but leave supporters cold and scared. Now they head into an important CONCACAF competition with negative momentum.
The two biggest names on this roster did not play in either of those poor performances. Both Michael Bradley and Christian Pulisic were absent last week, but will be relied on heavily this summer. Bradley has been a pillar of U.S. Soccer for well over a decade. He has the skill and toughness to be a force in the midfield for this squad.
However he also has had his fair share of disappointing performances in the red, white, and blue. His form this summer will go along way in determining whether the Americans can begin to restore some faith, or if they will continue to falter on the international stage.
Pulisic is as hyped and exciting a prospect as U.S. Soccer has had since Landon Donovan. The skill and flair he brings to the game adds a level of excitement to the team that no one else on the roster can match. He has 10 goals and six assists in 25 appearances or his country.
This summer’s Gold Cup will be his first competitive competition as his country’s star man. This team need his creative abilities in attack, and the two recent performances showed how bad that need is. If coach Berhalter’s first competitive venture in charge is to end in hardware, if will be the 20 year old attacker’s talent feet that take them there.
Double the Prize
The Americans will not only be playing to defend their Gold Cup crown, but also for the invitation this title would bring them. The winner of this summer’s tournament will earn a spot in the Confederations Cup in 2021. This allows another chance to win a trophy on the international level. It also provides the chance to gain a familiarity with the 2022 World Cup host country of Qatar.
With the sting the last World Cup’s qualifying failures still fresh, a big summer in 2019 would put U.S. Soccer back on the right track. The pool of young American talent is growing each year, but the current generation has yet to make a mark on the international stage. They can begin to rewrite the current narrative over the next month.
U.S. Soccer Must Regroup and Respond
The poor performances of the past week are behind them now. This squad must erase it from their memories and focus in on the task at hand. After opening the tournament with Guyana on June 18th, they also will face Trinidad and Tobago and Panama in group D. U.S. soccer was in its darkest hour a year ago. Now they look to right the ship by defending their 2017 Gold Cup title in what is a crucial summer for the program.