The World Cup run is over for the United States

The World Cup run is over for the United States

By Adam Vaccaro

What happened Saturday: In its thrilling run to the Round of 16, the United States went down a goal in the early minutes in two out of three group matches before being able to pull even for draws.

Against Ghana, they again found themselves down 1-0 on a Kevin-Prince Boateng strike. After a sluggish first half, the Yanks did as they'd grown accustomed and came out with urgency and enthusiasm in the second. And, again, Landon Donovan produced the big goal when his penalty kick in the 62nd minute tied things up. With new life, the US held on to force overtime.

But the extra two sessions opened as if a microcosm of the game itself. Within three minutes, Asamoah Gyan scored his third goal of the tournament to put the Black Stars ahead. The U.S. couldn't gain much control of the game after the score and despite a spirited effort, they just ran out of comeback strikes. Ghana won 2-1 in 120 minutes, eliminating the United States for the second straight World Cup.

Also Saturday: Soaking in South African winter rain with his team having already conceded a lead built on his early goal, Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez evaded his mark, cut to his right, and curled an 80th minute mid-range bid off the South Korean far post and into the back of the net. Suarez's second strike was the game-winner in a 2-1 final. South Korea was shut down early by Los Charruas' defense, which was not scored upon in group play, but gradually developed attacking momentum, bettering its opportunities throughout the match. The efforts culminated in a Lee Chung-Yong headed strike in the 68th minute. But Suarez's incredible goal dashed South Korea's hopes and ended the Taeguk Warrior's tournament. A once great soccer power, Uruguay's futbol revival continues as the team advances to the quarterfinals for the first time since 1970.

On American soccer: Whenever the World Cup comes about, the talk in America is of whether or not a strong showing will spell take-off for the sport in the US. In 2010 the Yanks fulfilled expectations by escaping their group, and they probably brought on a few more fans by advancing with such dramatic flair. But let's be honest. In order to really get the country soccer mad right now, they'd need to go deep into the tournament, at least making it to the quarterfinals.

That's fine. I largely agree. The Revs aren't going to suddenly start chasing the Red Sox' sellout record and most sports fans are going to shift their attention from the World Cup to baseball and NFL training camps across the country. Again, I agree. That's probably what's going to happen in the short term.

But something to take note of: In 2006, most of America's support in Germany was of the corporate variety, having secured tickets and flights through work, there primarily for the spectacle. In a substantially more difficult spot to travel to, the United States' supporters this time around were real. They were costumed, they were loud, they were enthusiastic, they were knowledgeable, and they were proud. They were soccer fans. And perhaps most important, they were young.

I contend that while a deep run may have boosted soccer in the country in the short term, the sport looks like it really is upcoming stateside and yes, I know this has been said for years and years. It's not going to be overnight. But the Yanks have young, enthusiastic support that more than ever in American soccer history really cares, not just about the team but about the game. Maybe it's a generation coming of age having only known a global village and the Internet, wanting to be a part of it by participating in international soccer. Maybe the reason is much simpler, like that the team has become a regular Cup qualifier. But for whatever reason, the support is there. The team itself was good enough only to escape its group and capture the country's attention on a Saturday afternoon. But these fans are many, and they're for real. And as an American soccer fan, that's solid enough consolation for me.

What it all means: Ghana moves forth to face Paraguay in the quarterfinals. A continent that saw all of its other teams eliminated before the second round, Africa will continue to rally around the Black Stars. The match should be a very strong defensive stand-off, with the winner moving onto what will be a surprising semifinal appearance for either side.

South Korea entered the tournament aiming to legitimize itself on the world soccer stage. In escaping its group, it took a step in so doing as the Taeguk Warriors reached their first knockout stage off Asian ground. Though this tournament's result obviously lacks the excitement of the trip to the semifinals on home ground in 2002, South Korea took a big step forward in 2010.
What to watch on Sunday: An old soccer rivalry will be reborn when Germany and England kick off in Bloemfontein. Historically a standby for a quality and passionate match, this will be the fifth meeting in World Cup finals history between the two sides and the 28th at large. For all the criticism the Three Lions took in drawing the US and Algeria, a trip to the quarterfinals at the expense of Germany would silence all howls of the team's early demise. That won't be easy, however. Die Mannschaft isn't as strong as it's been in the past, but it's superb organization and discipline could give England fits especially in midfield play. It was thought that Germany would be without star midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger, suffering from a thigh injury, but he did train in full on Saturday. Schweinsteiger is still listed as doubtful, but if featured he'll provide a big boost for his team.

Also Sunday: Argentina will ride momentum into a 2006 Round of 16 rematch with Mexico as one of just two teams to go undefeated in group play. As coach Diego Maradona is quick to point out, Albiceleste's critics have been quiet since the tournament openers. Rightly so: Argentina has rivaled Brazil for the World Cup's most consistent excellence and has found itself on the shortlist of tournament favorites. Many thought that Maradona's fiery coaching style could negatively effect the team, but it seems that the 1986 Cup winner has been more inspiration than distraction for his players. On the field, Lionel Messi is yet to score for Argentina but has anchored the squad and has arguably been the tournament's best big-name player. Had Mexico won Group A it would have been a favorite to reach the semis, but Argentina is just too tough a challenge. Don't expect El Tri to avenge its 2006 elimination.
Question of the Day: Wither Wayne Rooney? After putting forth his best club season to date for Manchester United, Rooney has been held at bay in tournament play thus far. England coach Fabio Capello praised Rooney's play against Slovenia but the striker isn't providing his best if he's not scoring. If England is to go far in the tournament, they'll need Rooney to start finding the goal.

Full schedule (all times EDT): Germany v England Free State Stadium, MangaungBloemfontein 10:00 a.m.; Argentina v Mexico Soccer City Stadium, Johannesburg 2:30 p.m.

Quote of Note: Sports are very, very cruel. One minute on top of the world next minute its over. I guess that's why I love 'em but not right now. Need a beer. - New England Revolution striker and CSNNE World Cup analyst Taylor Twellman following the United States' loss to Ghana, via Twitter.

Jurgen Klinsmann fired as coach of United States soccer team


Jurgen Klinsmann fired as coach of United States soccer team

NEW YORK - Jurgen Klinsmann was fired as coach of the U.S. soccer team Monday, six days after a 4-0 loss at Costa Rica dropped the Americans to 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying.

Los Angeles Galaxy coach Bruce Arena is the favorite to succeed Klinsmann, and his hiring could be announced as early as Tuesday. Arena coached the national team from 1998 to 2006.

Qualifying resumes when the U.S. hosts Honduras on March 24 and plays four days later at Panama.

"While we remain confident that we have quality players to help us advance to Russia 2018, the form and growth of the team up to this point left us convinced that we need to go in a different direction," U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said in a statement. "With the next qualifying match in late March, we have several months to refocus the group and determine the best way forward to ensure a successful journey to qualify for our eighth consecutive World Cup."

A former German star forward who has lived mostly in Southern California since retiring as a player in 1998, Klinsmann replaced Bob Bradley in July 2011 and led the team to the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup title and the second round of the 2014 World Cup, where the Americans lost to Belgium in extra time.

The USSF announced in December 2013 a four-year contract extension through 2018, but the successful World Cup was followed by poor performances. The U.S. was knocked out by Jamaica in last year's Gold Cup semifinals and lost to Mexico in a playoff for a Confederations Cup berth. The team rebounded to reach this year's Copa America semifinals before losing to Argentina 4-0. But this month Mexico beat the Americans 2-1 at Columbus, Ohio, in the first home qualifying loss for the U.S. since 2001.

And last week, the Americans were routed in Costa Rica, their largest margin of defeat in qualifying since 1980. They dropped to 0-2 for the first time in the hexagonal, as the final round of World Cup qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean is known.

While there is time to recover, given the top three teams qualify for the 2018 tournament in Russia and the fourth-place finisher advances to a playoff against Asia's No. 5 team, players seemed confused by Klinsmann's tactics, such as a 3-4-1-2 formation used at the start against the Mexicans.

"Today we made the difficult decision of parting ways with Jurgen Klinsmann," Gulati said. "There were considerable achievements along the way ... but there were also lesser publicized efforts behind the scenes. He challenged everyone in the U.S. Soccer community to think about things in new ways, and thanks to his efforts we have grown as an organization and expect there will be benefits from his work for years to come."

The U.S. had not changed coaches in the middle of qualifying since the USSF made the position a full-time job and hired Bob Gansler in 1989 to replace Lothar Osiander, who also at the time was a waiter at a San Francisco restaurant.

Klinsmann made controversial decisions, such as dropping Landon Donovan from the 2014 World Cup roster while taking along relatively inexperienced players such as John Brooks, Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin. Brooks and Green were among five German-Americans on the 23-man U.S. World Cup roster, which drew criticism from some in the American soccer community.

He coached the team to a 55-27-16 record, including a U.S.-record 12-game winning streak and victories in exhibitions at Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. He has worked in the past year to integrate more young players into the lineup, such as teen midfield sensation Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris.

Arena, a 65-year-old wisecracking Brooklynite known for blunt talk, was inducted into the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2010. He coached the University of Virginia from 1978-95, then coached D.C. United to titles in Major League Soccer's first two seasons before losing in the 1998 final. As U.S. coach, he led the Americans to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals in the team's best finish since 1930.

He was let go after the team's first-round elimination in 2006. Gulati unsuccessfully courted Klinsmann, who won the 1990 World Cup with West Germany and the 1996 European Championship with Germany, then coached his nation to the 2006 World Cup semifinals.

When Gulati and Klinsmann couldn't reach an agreement, the USSF hired Bradley, who coached the team to the second round of the 2010 World Cup. A year later, the Americans stumbled in the Gold Cup, and Klinsmann replaced Bradley.

Arena coached the New York Red Bulls of MLS from July 2006 to November 2007, then was hired the following August by the Galaxy. He led the team to MLS titles in 2011, '12 and '14.