In 2014, the US was faster, younger, and more skilled. Better?

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By Creative Media News

The Gregg Berhalter tenure began in the desert with a 3-0 friendly victory over Panama in front of 9,040 fans in Glendale, Arizona in January 2019.

The journey to Qatar has spanned 56 matches, ranging from the cacti and air-conditioned sprawl of the oblivious Phoenix suburbs to the dense skyscrapers and ignoble stadiums of the peninsula hosting the world’s most prestigious sporting event.

Here, in another arid region known more for its sand than its soccer, are three or more games that will define Berhalter’s tenure as the US men’s national team’s head coach – and, if things go awry, will likely end it. Given the intense scrutiny, the United States will face as co-hosts in 2026, Berhalter cannot afford to develop a reputation as a tactician who falters under scrutiny.

In 2014, the us was faster, younger, and more skilled. Better?
In 2014, the us was faster, younger, and more skilled. Better?

However, determining what constitutes success or failure in Qatar is difficult due to the group’s youth and inexperience; only DeAndre Yedlin has previous World Cup finals experience. The United States qualified for the tournament despite a disastrous 2018 qualifying campaign and a tumultuous 2022 campaign in which Berhalter’s squad finished behind Canada and Mexico, securing the third and final automatic spot on the final day due to goal difference.

Jürgen Klinsmann, who led the United States to the 2014 tournament, told Sports Illustrated in 2018: “You build a new skeleton between World Cups.” There is little meat on the bones. But we’re about to learn a great deal about the heart, soul, and mind of the supposedly most talented generation in American history.

Berhalter, when asked by ESPN about expectations, emphasized style over results: “I think it’s important that we go to Qatar and represent our identity. It is not yet time to alter our identities. We are an aggressive, high-pressing team, we want to use the ball, and we’ll see if we can be successful doing so.”

It would not reflect well on the plan to execute the game plan flawlessly but finish outside of the top two in Group B, which includes Wales, Iran, and England. It would also be a substandard result. The United States has reached the knockout stages in four of their last seven World Cup finals, including their most recent two campaigns in 2010 and 2014. In 2002, however, Bruce Arena’s squad was the only one to advance beyond the group stage, defeating Mexico in the round of 16. (and then lost unluckily to Germany in the quarter-finals).

More skillful
In 2014, the us was faster, younger, and more skilled. Better?

A conclusion in Qatar consistent with history and reasonable expectations appears to be a round of 16 loss, with Berhalter able to argue that his team has gained valuable experience that will serve them well in 2026 when the majority of his core players will be at their peak. Anything additional would be a bonus; anything less would be a letdown. However, luck will play a part.

According to the 49-year-old, the group and knockout stages are “literally two different tournaments.” “Everything is possible on any given day. In a knockout tournament, all you want to do is play your best game. And if you go out and play your best game possible, you leave with your head held high.”

Nonetheless, such an exit would make it more difficult to claim that the USMNT has made significant progress in the eight years since the 2014 squad gave their all and fell short, reaching the round of 16 but losing to a superior Belgium in extra time despite Tim Howard’s heroics in goal. According to the most important metric for casual observers – how far you advanced in the World Cup – it would indicate stagnation.

The 2022 squad is weaker at striker and goalkeeper than the 2014 squad, which featured Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard, but it has the potential to be more dynamic in other positions, particularly on the wings. The majority of the current crop play for large or medium-sized European clubs, but the 2014 crop included dependable veterans such as DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jermaine Jones, who also played in the major European leagues.

“On paper, they are the most talented United States men’s national team we’ve ever had,” says Herculez Gomez, who played for the United States in the 2010 World Cup finals and will be in Doha to host an ESPN+ show. Compared to previous generations, “this team is significantly younger, significantly faster, better at transitions, individually superior, and technically superior.”

However, he adds that they lack the veteran experience of the 2010 and 2014 squads, who had “guys who were a little bit nasty, who played with a chip on their shoulder” and were unfazed by difficult away assignments.

In 2014, the United States cruised to Brazil, winning the Hex qualification stage with seven wins and one loss over 10 games for an 11-point advantage over Mexico, who advanced via the inter-confederation playoffs.

In 14 games during the 2022 cycle, the United States scored 21 goals, the majority of which were close-range tap-ins or straightforward headers. A typical goal was scored by an American after the defense failed to clear a cross and he pounced on the loose ball. No goals were scored from outside the penalty area, and there were only two golazos: a pirouette by Christian Pulisic against Panama and a rocket by Sergio Dest against Costa Rica.

Aside from age, the most significant difference from eight years ago is likely not the caliber of those on the team, but the caliber of those not on the team. As Gomez notes, the talent pool is now much deeper and there are many more Americans playing for foreign clubs, where they are learning daily from some of the world’s best coaches. In contrast, the majority of the 2010 roster played at American universities during their late teens.

Berhalter had sufficient options to nearly completely restructure the team. Only four of the players who lost to Trinidad & Tobago in the 2017 qualifier are in the Qatar squad.

The coach evaluated dozens of promising young players in their teens and early twenties, many of whom played in the top two divisions in leading European nations. He has employed 92 players, three more than England’s Gareth Southgate, who has supervised 20 more matches. Some of Berhalter’s most utilized players, including Paul Arriola, Sebastian Lletget, Gyasi Zardes, Reggie Cannon, and Zack Steffen, did not make the final 26.

Other names that Berhalter has rejected or ignored suggest an abundance of options. Julian Green, a teenage attacking midfielder surprisingly included in Klinsmann’s 2014 squad, scored with his first touch against Belgium. Green, now 27, made 24 Bundesliga appearances for Greuther Fürth last season, but no one expected him to be invited to Qatar. He has not appeared in a single game under Berhalter.

Nine of the 26 players in Qatar are employed by MLS clubs, while the remaining 17 play in Europe. Berhalter (a former MLS player and coach) could have easily assembled a lineup with comparable talent using simply Walker Zimmerman, Kellyn Acosta, and Jess Ferreira.

In contrast, Klinsmann included 10 MLS players on his 23-man roster despite his dislike for the league, which he deemed inferior. Since 2014, when there were just 19 teams in MLS, the level has increased; this season, there were 28.

Despite his lofty long-term plans to rebuild the pipeline from top to bottom, Klinsmann was fired when it appeared unlikely that the senior team would travel to Russia. Given the significance of the World Cup to the reputation of American soccer, his retirement was not unexpected.

The 2014 group match between the United States and Portugal was viewed by around 25 million people on ESPN and Univision. The United States penultimate warm-up game before Qatar, a scoreless tie with Saudi Arabia, attracted 226,000 viewers on FS1.

The Black Friday clash with England is a significant opportunity to attract attention, but the summer tournament in Brazil became a mainstream cultural event that will be difficult to replicate in 2022 due to the early kick-off times for US residents and the competing attractions of the holiday season, which include football, basketball, and ice hockey.

Still, some benefits cannot be evaluated as readily as viewership numbers or the outcome of a month-long tournament. Some of Klinsmann’s legacies include the rigorous recruitment of dual nationals, the belief that the United States should adopt a more intricate and appealing style, a focus on young development, and the encouragement of players to move to Europe.

There were growing pains in 2014. Sometimes it was unclear whether Klinsmann was being demanding or demeaning when using criticism as a motivational tool. One New York Times headline read: Jurgen Klinsmann’s Strategy for Improving US Soccer (and Less American). The image was clear but hazy.

When Berhalter discusses his team’s identity, he is addressing tactics and not provoking introspective musings on what it means to be an American soccer player.

Eight years after the United States previous World Cup appearance, the domestic league is stronger and the global talent pool is deeper. Not identity crisis, but tactical debates Not a psychodramatist, but a coach.

And the promise of bigger things within the next three and a half years. It would be naïve to anticipate that the United States will take a major step forward in Qatar, but there is little doubt that the route is upward.

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