Almost a week after all the talk of firing Jurgen Klinsmann dies down, questions still remain about what happens next after the stunning USMNT loss to Jamaica, followed by a penalty kick loss in the 3rd Place Game to Panama. After a less than stellar tournament and many team vulnerabilities revealed, this could be a huge blow to the national team not just on the field but off. Here’s why.
First, we saw the star-studded generation of USMNT players possibly showing signs that they could be past their prime. Clint Dempsey, while leading the team in Gold Cup goals with 7, almost missed the Gold Cup after losing his temper in a U.S. Open Cup match. Captain Michael Bradley was frustratingly stopped during penalty kicks in the 3rd place game against Panama. And Jozy Altidore’s performance was so underwhelming that Klinsmann sent him back to Toronto FC after the group stage. As the stars we witnessed blossoming from the 2010 World Cup and 2014 World Cup grow older, it’s clear that the team needs to cultivate a new generation of stars to market to fans, and prepare for 2018.
This brings us to the second problem. The next generation has some definite learning to do. First, the combination of Ventura Alvarado and John Anthony Brooks showed huge gaps in defense that need to be addressed. Defense might have been the biggest problem that this U.S. Team faced during this Gold Cup, as it struggled to win games against historic soccer minnows. Goalkeeper Brad Guzan, while shining at some moments, proved that unfortunately there is no replacement for World Cup hero (or martyr) Tim Howard. Regrettably for Guzan, there is good reason to believe the team will return to Howard for World Cup Qualifying despite his age. Should the USMNT make the next World Cup in 2018, Howard would be 39 by that time.
Last, we saw a clear lack of attendance. While the media coverage could have been better, especially with just one game on network television, this was still a bad showing of support for a team that generally expects huge crowds at home. The third place game against Panama was in PPL Park, a soccer stadium with less than 20,000 seats on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Had the U.S. made it to the final, the alternative, Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles, could have been expected to be a sellout crowd of almost 70,000 fans. Due to the stunning loss to Jamaica, and the controversial circumstances surrounding the other semifinal between Mexico/Panama, PPL Park looked significantly empty despite its size.
Where MLS has lacked support over the years, the U.S. Men’s National Team has been consistently solid. All across, the nation, whether the team was playing in friendlies or competitive matches, they have been backed by large, rowdy fan contingents, proud of their continental powerhouse. For everything that the U.S. Women’s National Team victory in the World Cup represented, this Gold Cup showing represents the opposite. After this performance and the rise of Caribbean national teams witnessed during this Gold Cup, the worst fears of a U.S. Soccer fan could come to life. The team’s issues need to be addressed as soon as possible, otherwise all the efforts and progress that this team has made over the years from memorable World Cup performances and CONCACAF dominance will come to a screeching halt.