If it feels like it’s been a while since we heard from the U.S. national team, that’s in part because it has been—Jurgen Klinsmann and Co. rarely go more than two months without a game or camp—and in part because so much has happened in the meantime. The American men aren’t often so far from the spotlight for this long.
Since the whistle blew at the conclusion of the Copa América Centenario bronze medal game on June 25, Lionel Messi missed a penalty kick, retired, then unretired from international football. Cristiano Ronaldo coached Portugal to the European crown, and Neymar kept his composure while Hope Solo lost hers.
Individual U.S. players made the news, but for reasons concerning club rather than country. Brad Guzan, Alejandro Bedoya and DeAndre Yedlin were among those climbing through the transfer window. Speculation swirled about whether Clint Dempsey and Sigi Schmid could coexist in Seattle and over Christian Pulisic’s future in Dortmund. Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones got hurt. Jozy Altidore got healthy.
The biggest national team story of the past two months was a non-story. Is Klinsmann being pursued by the English FA? Is he the favorite to succeed Roy Hodgson? Is U.S. Soccer ready to cut him loose? It’s all come down to the cosmopolitan former Tottenham star and the no-nonsense Sam Allardyce! But what about Arsène Wenger?
Thanks for the attention, British press, but no.
It’s clearly time for some substance. And that substance is coming in the form of a pair of crucial World Cup qualifiers on September 2 and 6. Klinsmann, who hasn’t worked with his players in two months, won’t have the luxury of easing back into rhythm with a friendly or two. CONCACAF’s semifinal round of qualifying is concluding, and the Americans (2-1-1) still aren’t guaranteed passage to the Hexagonal.
It’s hard to imagine the wheels falling off against Caribbean opponents like St. Vincent & The Grenadines (0-4-0) and Trinidad & Tobago (3-0-1), but this isn’t the time to take chances. Klinsmann almost surely will select the best team available and based on his comments following the Copa América, that means we’ll likely see many of the same faces who finished fourth in June.
Soccer success almost always is in the eye of the beholder. Come in anywhere between first and last, and the final verdict necessarily depends on context and expectation. On the surface, the Americans’ Copa performance was relatively cut and dried. They lost to Argentina and Colombia (twice), two of the top three teams in the world according to FIFA’s ranking, and beat Ecuador, Paraguay and Costa Rica—as they should have at home. In advancing to the semifinals and getting pounded once they got there, the U.S. proved to be what we thought they were: decent, but not elite.
Reasonable people can wonder if they should be closer to challenging and beating the top teams, which Klinsmann said was his goal. But there’s little uncertainty about where the U.S. currently stands on the global landscape. And for the manager, cementing that status after a disappointing, rough-and-tumble 2015 represented success.
“Reaching the [Copa] final four, reaching that goal, is huge,” Klinsmann said in a U.S. Soccer Q&A a few days following the consolation game loss. “Our players now see that we got a lesson from Argentina in the semifinal, but also that if they raise their own game to another level or two or three levels higher from what they’re used to playing in CONCACAF, things are doable … The learning curve we came through in this tournament was tremendous, and you have to give our team a huge compliment for the way they played.”
So expect that curve to continue. Klinsmann likely will name a squad on Sunday that includes most of the available men who played in the Copa, and if anything it’s almost surely a team in significant better psychological shape than it was at the beginning of the year. And he’ll almost surely announce more than 23 players. The invitees will gather Sunday and Monday in Jacksonville, where the Americans will face Trinidad on September 6. But first they’ll travel to St. Vincent, and they’ll do so in multiple aircraft by way of Barbados (St. Vincent doesn’t have a runway that can handle a larger plane).
U.S. Soccer in 2016: USMNT and USWNT year in photos
Klinsmann fired, replaced by Arena
Jurgen Klinsmann was fired after the USA's World Cup qualifying loss in Costa Rica, bringing an end to more than five years in charge. He was replaced by Bruce Arena, who returns to the bench after coaching the USA from 1998-2006.
USMNT vs. Costa Rica, November 15
The dejected faces on Bobby Wood, left, and John Brooks say it all, as the U.S. drops to 0-2-0 in the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying Hexagonal following a 4-0 loss and embarrassment at Costa Rica.
USWNT vs. Romania, November 13
Morgan Brian gets a congratulatory hug after her converted penalty kick, which helped the U.S. women close out 2016 with a 5-0 rout of Romania at StubHub Center in Carson, California.
USMNT vs. Mexico, November 11
Mexico players celebrate Rafa Marquez's late winner, which delivered a 2-1 triumph for El Tri over the USA to open the CONCACAF Hexagonal. It ended years of U.S. domination over Mexico in Columbus.
USWNT vs. Romania, November 10
Crystal Dunn congratulates Christen Press on one of her three goals as the USA handled Romania with ease, winning 8-1 at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California.
USWNT vs. Switzerland, October 23
Carli Lloyd gets a hearty welcome after scoring on a long-range blast to kick-start the U.S. in a 5-1 rout of Switzerland in Minneapolis.
USWNT vs. Switzerland, October 19
A new-look U.S. women's team routed Switzerland 4-0 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, with Samantha Mewis (3) at the center of the celebrations after scoring the final goal of four-goal second half.
USMNT vs. New Zealand, October 11
Julian Green is congratulated by captain Michael Bradley after scoring the opener, but the U.S. was forced to settle for a 1-1 draw vs. New Zealand in the last game before the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying Hexagonal kicks off.
USMNT vs. Cuba, October 7
Chris Wondolowski scored a goal and assisted on another, as the USA continued World Cup qualifying preparations by beating Cuba 2-0 in a historic friendly in Havana.
USWNT vs. Netherlands, September 18
Carli Lloyd celebrates her goal that kicks off the scoring for the USA in a 3-1 win over the Netherlands at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
USWNT vs. Thailand, September 15
U.S. women's national team co-captain Carli Lloyd happily signs autographs after scoring a hat trick in a 9-0 romp over Thailand in Columbus, Ohio.
USWNT vs. Thailand, September 15
Megan Rapinoe kneels for the national anthem ahead of the U.S. women's national team's match vs. Thailand, continuing her public protest in line with that of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
USMNT vs. Trinidad & Tobago, September 6
Fabian Johnson, Christian Pulisic and Sacha Kljestan celebrate during a 4-0 win, which cemented the USA's place atop its World Cup qualifying group and a berth in the CONCACAF hexagonal.
Hope Solo's USWNT contract terminated
Following the USWNT's Olympic loss to Sweden, Hope Solo lashed out at the opposition, calling them "cowards" and drawing the ire of U.S. Soccer. The incident pushed the federation over the edge, and it terminated the goalkeeper's contract while suspending her six months–meaning any chance at reinstatement won't be possible until February.
USWNT vs. Sweden, August 12
The long and stunned faces say it all, as the U.S. women try to comprehend a penalty-kick loss to Sweden in the Olympic quarterfinals. The 4-3 PK defeat after a 1-1 draw marked the earliest ouster for the U.S. women in a major competition ever.
USWNT vs. Colombia, August 9
Hope Solo lets a Catalina Usme free kick slip through her hands and legs in a shocking 2-2 draw. The USA still won its Olympic group despite the slip-up.
USWNT vs. France, August 6
Carli Lloyd scores the only goal in a 1-0 win over a stout France side to punch the USA's ticket to the knockout stage at the Olympics.
USWNT vs. New Zealand, August 3
Carli Lloyd celebrates her goal in the USA's 2-0 win over New Zealand in their opening match of group play at the Olympics. Alex Morgan doubled the USA's lead in the second half.
USWNT vs. Costa Rica, July 22
Christen Press and Carli Lloyd celebrate an easy 4-0 win, which sent the U.S. on its way to Rio with an unbeaten record in 2016.
USWNT vs. South Africa, July 9
Hope Solo salutes the crowd after posting the 100th clean sheet of her career in a 1-0 win in Chicago. Crystal Dunn scored the lone goal.
USMNT vs. Colombia, June 25
For a second time at Copa America, the USA falls to Colombia, with Carlos Bacca's goal the difference in a 1-0 result in the third-place match in Arizona.
USMNT vs. Argentina, June 21
Lionel Messi converts an incredible free kick to punctuate a dominant performance for Argentina against the USA in the Copa America semifinals.
USMNT vs. Ecuador, June 16
Goal scorers Clint Dempsey and Gyasi Zardes share a celebratory hug with Matt Besler in the Copa America quarterfinals, where the Americans held on for a 2-1 win and a place in the semis.
USMNT vs. Paraguay, June 11
Clint Dempsey celebrates his goal in a 1-0 win over Paraguay, which secured the USA's place in the Copa America knockout stage.
USMNT vs. Costa Rica, June 7
Bobby Wood caps a dominating first half for the USA in a must-win game vs. Costa Rica in Chicago at Copa America. Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones and Graham Zusi also scored.
USWNT vs. Japan, June 5
Co-captain Becky Sauerbrunn defends as the U.S. bounces back to shut out Japan 2-0 in a rain-shortened friendly in Cleveland.
USMNT vs. Colombia, June 3
James Rodriguez beats Brad Guzan from the penalty spot in Colombia's 2-0 win over the USA to open Copa America Centenario.
USWNT vs. Japan, June 2
Lindsey Horan heads the USA in front to cap a comeback from two goals down, but the Americans conceded in extra time to 10-woman Japan, settling for a 3-3 draw.
USMNT vs. Bolivia, May 29
Christian Pulisic scores his first international goal in the USA's 4-0 win over Bolivia in a final tune-up for Copa America. Gyasi Zardes scored twice, and John Brooks added one of his own in the triumph.
USMNT vs. Ecuador, May 25
Darlington Nagbe is hugged by Christian Pulisic after his 90th-minute volley delivers a 1-0 victory for the USA in a pre-Copa America friendly.
USMNT vs. Puerto Rico, May 22
Tim Ream scores the opening goal in the USA's 3-0 win over Puerto Rico in the first meeting between the two sides. Bobby Wood and Paul Arriola scored as well.
USWNT vs. Colombia, April 10
Julie Johnston, left, is mobbed after one of her two goals in a 3-0 USA win at Talen Energy Stadium in Chester, Pennsylvania.
USWNT vs. Colombia, April 6
Allie Long, left scores twice, and five other players score as well in a 7-0 rout of Colombia in East Hartford, Connecticut.
USMNT vs. Guatemala, March 29
Christian Pulisic, 17, makes his U.S. debut in a World Cup qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, becoming cap-tied to the USA. He was otherwise eligible for Croatia.
USMNT vs. Guatemala, March 29
Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore celebrate during a thorough 4-0 World Cup qualifying win, putting the USA's campaign back on track after the setback in Guatemala.
USMNT vs. Guatemala, March 25
There was no way through for DeAndre Yedlin and the USA during a 2-0 loss in Guatemala in what was a stunning setback in the Americans' World Cup qualifying campaign.
USWNT vs. Germany, March 9
The USWNT celebrates the inaugural SheBelieves Cup title after beating European powers England, France and Germany in succession.
USWNT vs. Germany, March 9
The U.S. celebrates Alex Morgan's equalizer vs. Germany in the SheBelieves Cup in Boca Raton, Florida. Samantha Mewis's winner a few minutes later cemented the Americans' overall triumph in the competition.
USWNT vs. France, March 6
Alex Morgan scores the game-winner in a 1-0 victory over France in the second game of the SheBelieves Cup in Nashville, Tennessee.
USWNT vs. England, March 3
Crystal Dunn is mobbed after her game-winning goal kicks off the SheBelieves Cup in a 1-0 triumph in Tampa Bay, Florida.
USWNT vs. Canada, February 21
Lindsey Horan celebrates her goal that helps the USA to a 2-0 win over Canada and a first-place finish in CONCACAF Olympic qualifying.
USWNT vs. Trinidad and Tobago, February 19
Alex Morgan celebrates one of her three goals that helped the U.S. clinch a berth in the 2016 Olympics after a 5-0 triumph in Houston.
USWNT vs. Puerto Rico, February 15
Crystal Dunn scores one of her five goals, tying a single-game U.S. record in a 10-0 rout to close group play in Olympic qualifying.
USWNT vs. Mexico, February 13
The U.S. needed a penalty kick from Carli Lloyd to beat Mexico 1-0 in the second match of CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying tournament.
USWNT vs. Costa Rica, February 10
Alex Morgan scores the fastest goal in U.S. history, netting 12 seconds into the USWNT's Olympic qualifying campaign and sending the Americans on their way to a 5-0 win.
USMNT vs. Canada, February 5
Jozy Altidore heads in the winner to secure a 1-0 win over Canada at StubHub Center to cap the annual winter training camp.
USMNT vs. Iceland, January 31
Steve Birnbaum heads in a late winner in a 3-2 victory over Iceland in the opening match of the year.
USWNT vs. Ireland, January 23
17-year-old Mallory Pugh scores on her debut, helping cap a 5-0 win for the USA to open the year. Carli Lloyd led the way with a hat trick, and Alex Morgan scored as well in San Diego.
The logistics should be more challenging on paper than the Vincy Heat, who the Americans dispatched by a 6-1 score in November. But the U.S. has struggled in the Caribbean before. At this stage of qualifying four years ago, they lost at Jamaica and needed a 90th-minute goal from Eddie Johnson to beat Antigua & Barbuda. If the U.S. fails to secure three points next week, Group C will go down to the final day. Even if the Americans triumph in St. Vincent, a Guatemala (2-2-0) win or tie against Trinidad would leave the race for the two Hex berths unresolved. That would leave everything to play for in Jacksonville.
Who stays with the team after St. Vincent, who heads back to their club and who comes in will depends on the results. U.S. and Trinidad victories on September 2 would seal advancement for both, giving Klinsmann a bit of leeway ahead of their meeting four days later.
Klinsmann’s tough decisions will come at the edges of the roster.
Guzan didn’t do anything at Copa América to lose the starting job in net, but he’s only played two games since—both within the last five days for his new club, Middlesbrough—while Tim Howard has been sharp for the Colorado Rapids. Copa colossus John Brooks, Yedlin, Fabian Johnson and Geoff Cameron (although he’s been on the bench for Stoke City) are potential starters in back. Omar Gonzalez may have done enough at Pachuca to force a recall. D.C. United’s Steve Birnbum remains in the frame as well and veteran Matt Besler returned to action last weekend after a month out with an injured knee. That’s the defensive core.
Most of the uncertainty is in central midfield. Bradley is suspended for the St. Vincent game thanks to yellow card accumulation and Jones (knee) hasn’t played since July 4. Colorado coach Pablo Mastroeni said Wednesday that Jones remained “day-to-day … with a little bit of the pain around that joint and the LCL,” according to The Denver Post.
Klinsmann will have Copa veterans Kyle Beckerman, Bedoya, Darlington Nagbe, Gyasi Zardes and Graham Zusi to choose from, as well as Perry Kitchen and Pulisic to consider. The former has only four caps, however, while the latter may be on the move from Dortmund. Klinsmann will have to decide whether to call up Pulisic as the transfer window closes. If there’s roster turnover between games, the depth afforded by the likes of Danny Williams, Lee Nguyen, Ethan Finlay, among others, will be helpful.
Everything look was looking straightforward up top until the Seattle Sounders announced Friday that the in-form Dempsey (five goals in four games) is undergoing evaluations for an irregular heartbeat. With Dempsey left out to tend to much more pressing needs and priorities than soccer, Bobby Wood and Altidore will be left atop the forward depth chart. Wood earned a summer move to Hamburger SV and Altidore has been a beast since returning to the field for Toronto FC, scoring in four straight games (and five of his last six) for the new Eastern Conference leader.
Klinsmann and his staff spent some of the past two months checking in with Terrence Boyd, Josh Gatt and Joe Gyau, all attackers returning to their European clubs from injury. Julian Green is sticking with the Bayern Munich senior team for now and Jordan Morris is holding his own as a rookie facing significant expectations in Seattle. Aron Jóhannsson is on his way back with Werder Bremen and Lynden Gooch (who’s also eligible to play for England and Ireland) is starting in midfield for Sunderland. Matt Miazga, Emerson Hyndman and Fafa Picault were in camp before the Copa América. In MLS, Kellyn Acosta has gotten a test of the international big time and Keegan Rosenberry is turning heads.
There are intriguing players in the pipeline, but they’ll more likely get their chance later this year or in January camp. The stakes are too high over the next two weeks, and Klinsmann appears set to remain reliant on his Copa América semifinalists.