After a pair of frustrating defeats to open World Cup qualification, the United States men’s soccer team may have finally found some inspiration.
A tough loss earlier this year to international rival Mexico and an embarrassing 4-0 defeat to Costa Rica saw Jurgen Klinsmann get released from his position as head coach. Yet the controversial rehiring of former head coach Bruce Arena, as well as Clint Dempsey’s return from injury, revitalized a United States team which beat Honduras 6-0 last Friday.
Dempsey netted a hat trick against Los Catrachos, an impressive feat considering that just a few months ago, his career almost ground to a halt due to heart issues. Adding to the impressive display, 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund standout Christian Pulisic impressed many with his skill and vision. The young man on track to perhaps one day surpass Dempsey and Donovan netted a goal and recorded three assists en route to demolishing a lackluster Honduran team.
On the following Tuesday, the United States took a brief step backward with a 1-1 away tie against Panama. There were positive takeaways, though, even if Arena and his men didn’t walk away with three points. First and foremost, Dempsey scored another goal and continued to prove his importance to the team. Pulisic showed he can keep up with the physical demands of international play by not letting himself get bullied by larger players. And the team as a whole, despite being outplayed in most categories by the Panamanians, demonstrated enough resilience to capture a point.
With six games left to play, two wins would put the United States squarely back in contention to qualify for the World Cup. Next up on the schedule is Trinidad and Tobago, one of the weaker sides participating in the competition. A win against T&T could potentially give the Americans enough momentum to tackle group leader Mexico. It’s too early to tell, but a coaching change may have been just what the doctor ordered.
With the future in mind, it is also promising that more and more young American players are getting game time in quality leagues across Europe. As noted, Pulisic has played regular Bundesliga and Champions League soccer for Borussia Dortmund. Center back John Brooks is a first-choice player for German side Hertha BSC and is still on the front end of his career at 24 years old. Strikers Bobby Wood and Julian Green are also relatively young Americans playing and scoring in Germany.
DeAndre Yedlin, a full back for Newcastle United, is shining for an English club that looks likely to reclaim its place in the Premier League next season. Emerson Hyndman is tearing up the Scottish Premier League with fellow American center midfielder Perry Kitchen. Several American youngsters have also made their way to various academies and youth teams across Europe, including Manchester United and the world-famous Barcelona youth academy La Masia.
This infusion of youth, in combination with a resurgence of established veterans, should give Americans quite a bit of excitement for the national team for the foreseeable future.