USA Soccer: An Early Look Ahead to 2018

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Russia Brings a Whole New Set of Challenges, But Will the USA Be Better Equipped By Then?

USA Soccer: An Early Look Ahead to 2018

The 2014 World Cup abruptly ended for the U.S. Men’s National Team on Tuesday in Brazil. With a 2-1 OT loss to Belgium in the knockout round, the Americans will return home with the knowledge that one or two more capitalized opportunities could have changed everything. Although many players are understandably disappointed with the outcome, there are many positives to take away from the United States’ unlikely run.

 

A short list of accomplishments from 2014: Defying expectations, escaping the “group of death”, and most importantly increasing the popularity of soccer in the U.S.

 

The 2018 World Cup will be held in Russia, far-removed from 2014’s Brazil. Sochi, the highly scrutinized host of the 2014 Winter Olympics, is a site for many games. In addition, Kaliningrad, St. Petersburg, and other large Russian cities will serve as temporary homes for teams of 32 nations from around the world. The 2018 tournament will start on June 8th and end July 8th, lasting exactly one month. Only two stadiums have been fully constructed thus far, but competing countries are more worried about the building of their own rosters than the building of the venues.

 

After qualifying for the last seven tournaments and drawing worldwide attention, it’s almost a sure thing that there will be a U.S. presence in Russia in 2018. The real question now becomes, how far can the United States advance, and can we win it all? We’ve analyzed the probable roster, the coach, and America’s new attitude in search for answers. Here’s your primer for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

 

Familiar Faces

 

Scared you will have to educate yourself about U.S. soccer all over again in June of 2018? No worries, there should be plenty of members of the cast returning to chase another world championship.

 

In late 2013, coach Jurgen Klinsmann signed a contract extension with the United States through the 2018 World Cup. Somehow, this doesn’t bind him to coach the American team in the future. After a stunning loss to Belgium in the round of 16, Klinsmann was asked whether he would stay with the U.S. in Russia. The coach’s response was, “I think so. Yes, I think so.” Not the most confident of statements, but remember, this is the same guy who declared his own team “cannot win” the World Cup before the tournament even began. Klinsmann did a remarkable job of keeping the Americans in every game and has become a household name in the states. Unless he’s offered a deal that he can’t refuse, expect to see the coach back on America’s sidelines in 2018.

 

At 35 years old, star goalie Tim Howard is quickly approaching the conclusion of his illustrious career. In what was likely his last game at the World Cup, Howard recorded 16 saves breaking the record for saves in a match in the tournament’s history. Other long-time contributors, including DaMarcus Beasley, Clint Dempsey, and Landon Donovan will probably be excluded from the 2018 roster. The egos of these long-time veterans will obviously stir up controversy when the final cuts are made, but Klinsmann has proven that his way works. For the good of the nation, hopefully these aging stars will be able to sacrifice their pride.

 

It will be a sad day when these men are no longer able to represent their country at the highest level. However, there is no reason to fret. These players lit the torch to start the USMNT’s journey on the international stage, now it’s time for their heirs to finish the job. In 2018, Jozy Altidore will be right in the thick of his prime and hopefully won’t have to deal with any more injury problems. Other players like Michael Bradley, Omar Gonzalez, and Matt Besler will certainly return to the roster, hoping to make major improvements in their international play.

 

Young Stars

 

As you can see, the future of soccer in the United States is bright. Four years away is a long time to be making predictions for. However, if there’s one factor to consider when thinking about the U.S. chances in the 2018 World Cup, it’s the development of youngsters Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin.

 

Just a little while ago, it was still an uncertainty whether or not the 19-year-old teenager Julian Green would play for the United States in the 2014 World Cup. After a first-touch goal in extra time against a stacked Belgium team, Green has become the USMNT’s most interesting asset moving forward to 2018. With said goal, Green became the youngest player to score a World Cup goal since a pretty decent player named Lionel Messi in 2006. Great score, even better company.

 

At 20 years old, DeAndre Yedlin provides another bright spot for the United States. Replacing the German-American Fabian Johnson in the 32nd minute due to a hamstring injury, Yedlin showed his eye-popping athleticism and aggressive tendencies on the field. He didn’t do anything too special when he had the ball. But after strong relieving performances against Portugal, Germany, and Belgium, it’s safe to say that in four years, Yedlin will be a hard man to contain if he progresses at a reasonable rate.

 

Criticism was abundant after Jurgen Klinsmann denied Landon Donovan a spot on the roster this year, instead opting for a younger team featuring a handful of players who were not supposed to even see the field. But the same young men that so many fans were uncertain about proved their worth in the 2014 World Cup. The future stars of the USMNT have shown ability, and now they’re experienced too.

 

New Expectations

 

If not for the performance of Belgium’s incredible Kevin De Bruyne, America may still be in contention for the cup. But this just wasn’t our year; the stars and stripes didn’t align quite right. Nonetheless, in just four years another opportunity will present itself. Under coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s lead, this time the United States will have the skill-set, the confidence, and the experience to compete with the world’s best.

 

2014 and 2010 were the first consecutive tournaments in which the United States reached the knockout round. Before then, the team had only reached that point three times in 80 years. At the same time, the end result in 2014 was the same as 2010. On paper, it would seem that no progress has been made. In 2018, a second-round appearance will be expected, while fans will cross their fingers in hopes of a longer lasting run to further rounds.

 

In Russia, we won’t be underdogs anymore. While this speaks to the growth of the USMNT in recent years, the Americans must be cautious in their approach. No longer will countries overlook the USA in the World Cup. Instead, we will more than likely be ranked as one of the top 10 teams in the world by FIFA. This means that soccer experts across the globe will be picking America to advance past the group stage. But learning lessons from 2014’s Italy and Spain will prove valuable. Anything can happen in 90 minutes between two high-level squads. 2018 will present the United States with better odds of winning the tournament. But odds are not good enough. The Americans must sustain their underdog mind-set in the 2018 World Cup, which means fighting for positioning and every loose ball there is.

 

The State of American Soccer

 

The 2014 World Cup brought new life to what is becoming one of America’s trendiest sports. The United States showcased the world’s biggest foreign fan base in Brazil cheering on the USMNT. Soccer is now officially the second most popular sport for Americans under the age of 25. The national team’s performance this year will only amplify these sentiments amongst the citizenry.

 

There goes another American appearance in the World Cup without a trophy coming home. But there’s a difference between returning empty-handed and failing. The United States lost, but at the same time inspired millions. In 2018, America will field an improved team, this time not with a dream, but with a belief that we can win it all.

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