By Parth Parikh,
Sports Business Writer
The bitter defeat in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil still lingers for the United States men’s national team, or USMNT. After forcing overtime against a young and hungry Belgium side in the Round of 16, momentum slipped away fast as Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku scored the two winning goals, as the USMNT went home with a 2-1 defeat and another Round of 16 memory, just like 2010.
For the 2018 World Cup, the USMNT is taking a different approach and hoping that the fans’ newfound passion for the sport will give them the boost they need to take that next step and be a reckoning force in world soccer. The mission they set was to get younger players and a coach who would work with the young stars. The USMNT fired former coach Jurgen Klinsmann and hired Bruce Arena, a former USMNT coach from 1998-2006. With Bruce bringing back his tactics and promising the prospective USMNT players that they will all get playing time, the USMNT was ready to bring in the young talent that they desperately need to start the new era of US soccer.
As for the younger players the USMNT wanted, that issue was solved in January when Coach Arena called up 32 American-born MLS stars to the USMNT and gave the players a chance to try-out for the official men’s roster. Some of the names from the list of 32 are names that MLS fans will recognize; goalkeeper Stefan Frei, midfielders Sacha Kljestan, Sebastian Lletget, Darlington Nagbe, and forwards Jordan Morris and Gyasi Zardes all got the call from Coach Arena that they had a chance to be on the roster that might fly to Russia in 2018. Other players playing internationally also got calls to join the USMNT, such as Geoff Cameron and Christian Pulisic. By adding home-grown talent like the 32 MLS players, the American international stars, and keeping the core from the 2014 team, including Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Michael Bradley, Coach Arena not only used the MLS effectively to bring in the young phenoms, but also used the best talent they could get to form the new core of the team.
So far, the results have been fantastic, as the USMNT have not lost in four games under Coach Arena’s second stint with the team. The key in those four games is who were the stars and the goal-scorers who made their mark so far. MLS call-up Morris and Lletget have scored once for the USMNT and veterans Dempsey and Bradley have worked hard to make sure they return to the big stage again.
The US faced off against Honduras on March 27th, in search of a much-needed victory. The team responded well to the challenge, scoring all six goals in a 6-0 victory to earn their first three points in the first round of the World Cup qualifiers.
Later in the week, the team faced Panama in Panama City looking to continue their momentum after their strong victory. Despite coming into the game confident, the US played to a 1-1 draw behind a Clint Dempsey goal. The team now has four points in four games, putting them in a decent position to qualify for the tournament in 2018.
But there is no question the MVP of the four games so far has to be Borussia Dortmund midfielder and one of the best young talents the USMNT has seen since Landon Donovan, Christian Pulisic. At the age of 18, Pulisic has not only done more for the USMNT, but for US soccer as a whole. At 17, Pulisic was brought to Germany to play for Borussia Dortmund, and has since become one of the most recognizable faces in US soccer. He has helped bring Dortmund to prominence and has solidified himself as a starter in a team with stars such as Mario Gotze, Marco Reus and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. For the US, he scored 49 goals in his youth career, with four goals and five assists in 13 games with the USMNT.
There is still a lot of soccer to be played, but the time is now to root for our countrymen and follow them on their journey to Russia 2018.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 4th, 2017 print edition.
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