With all the hype about the United States men’s national team run to the semifinals of Copa America Centenario, lost in the team’s success (or rather perceived success) is the fact that through four games in the tournament there has been nothing really to brag about. And perhaps the “success” in this tournament is costing the Americans in terms of preparation down the road.
Beat Argentina on Tuesday night and suddenly the dialogue changes. But through four games and three wins, the United States has done nothing novel, nothing new, nothing groundbreaking.
That is not to say that the United States hasn’t accomplished something in making the semifinals, but given the road for the team to get to this point and the fact that the tournament is being held in “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” getting to this point isn’t a surprise. It isn’t a shock. And it certainly should be expected.
That’s because the three wins by head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad have come against teams that the United States could and should beat, and has historically taken to the proverbial woodshed.
The Americans had their chance to do so in the tournament’s opener, instead losing to Colombia in an ugly 2-0 loss. Wins over Costa Rica, Paraguay and Ecuador were nice and got the United States to now within a game of the championship, but these aren’t powerhouse teams by any stretch. They are good, solid wins, but these aren’t noticeable accomplishments or stepping stones. The results are simply status quo, the kind of wins at home the United States has been consistently getting over the likes of Costa Rica and Ecuador for two decades.
To date, what Klinsmann has done in winning three games in this tournament is exactly what his predecessors, Bob Bradley and Bruce Arena, did during their tenures with the national team.
If Klinsmann got a win over Colombia or achieves one Tuesday against Argentina, then there is something to the magical talk here. But as of yet, he has yet to find that signature tournament win to take the Americans to the next level.
And in putting together this run through Copa America, he is fielding a team built for the last World Cup. This might be the most troubling part of the tournament so far.
Copa America Centenario is a great tournament, but it carries no real reward. The United States doesn’t qualify for the Confederations Cup from this, there is no qualification for the Olympics or the World Cup at stake. It isn’t even a tremendous learning experience in a hostile environment, given that the tournament is being hosted by the Yanks.
Instead, it is a series of glorified friendly matches, all of which is being handled by a veteran roster that may be too old for the next World Cup in two years’ time.
So much of the core of Klinsmann’s squad – from Jermaine Jones to Clint Dempsey in the starting lineup to bench options named Kyle Beckerman, Chris Wondolowski and Graham Zusi – are the faces of the last World Cup cycle. To rely on them moving forward is likely to lead to an early knockout in the 2018 World Cup, like what happened in 2006 when the United States had an older squad that struggled en route to a first round exit.
In a tournament that, at the end of the day, really doesn’t mean anything, the bleeding of Christian Pulisic, Darlington Nagbe and Matt Miazga are of more importance long-term to the viability of the national team than beating Ecuador last week. What could have been valuable matches to begin developing the future core of this team were instead put on hold for the here and now.
This is all not to say that Klinsmann shouldn’t be satisfied with the results, just that they were expected given that the United States consistently beats nations the caliber of their last three opponents anyway, especially at home. To make the results of the past two weeks more than just another linear step sideways is to overlook the obvious fact that, in this tournament, the United States hasn’t done anything new yet.
And if Klinsmann wasted these matches for the present rather than developing the future of his team, then one should wonder if it was even worth it.