June 1, 2016

AMERICA'S TEAM:

USMNT: GET EXCITED FOR COPA AMERICA (Will Leitch, 6/01/16, Sports on Earth)

 In soccer, the U.S is not a superpower; we are those scrappy underdogs trying to challenge the established empires. It is far more enjoyable to watch a nation attempt to channel its resources to build something lasting than to watch established powers simply try to hold on to their status. Would you rather be a fan of the U.S. team or, say, England, in which every game appears to be a national referendum on self-loathing? We are the up-and-comers. And we are never the up-and-comers. To use the term I coined a couple of years ago, it's hipster patriotism. It's being a fan before it was cool to be a fan.

Plus: Find me anything -- anything -- that unites this country anymore. Then watch people from all across the United States, people who will all be screaming at each other this November, lose their damned minds when John Brooks scored his famous goal in the 2014 World Cup.

Yeah: I want that jones again.

Thus, we come to now. On Friday night, the United States will kick off the Copa America Centenario in Santa Clara, California, against Colombia. The Copa America is not the World Cup -- it's just because of the Centenario anniversary that the U.S. gets to compete in this tournament at all -- but it's the best thing going until we get there, and it's being played in the United States. This is the United States measuring itself against some of the best teams in the world, from Brazil to Argentina to even Mexico. There aren't that many massive soccer tournaments for the U.S. to play in. Next to the World Cup, this is as big as it gets. Even our coach says, "This is the real deal."

The most fun thing about the USMNT as its first game approaches is that, for the first time since the last World Cup, it's actually giving its fans some reason to hope. After the disastrous Gold Cup last year -- in which the U.S. lost to Jamaica in the semifinals in Atlanta, a game I attended and a game that probably assures the USMNT is never coming to Atlanta again -- and then a loss to Mexico to miss out on going to the Confederations Cup in Russia next year, coach Jurgen Klinsmann has taken relentless fire. Critics, with some justification (though you should of course never criticize the USMNT, ever ever ever you traitors), hammered Klinsmann for not embracing young players, for some questionable tactics, for trying to change the American soccer culture too dramatically, for being aloof and inflexible. It didn't help when the team stumbled in early 2018 World Cup qualifying, including a loss to Guatemala last March that put the team in legitimate danger of missing out on Russia.

An easy 4-0 win over Guatemala just a few days later got the train back on track, but it's the friendlies in preparation for the Copa America that have everyone -- OK, me -- so excited. A 3-1 win over Puerto Rico with a threadbare squad told us nothing, and the USMNT looked lousy in the first half against Ecuador. But then something clicked, in large part because Klinsmann finally started giving his kids a chance, notably Bobby Wood, Darlington Nagbe and, most thrillingly, Christian Pulisic. The team immediately looked more energetic and structured -- while still relying on old stalwarts like Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones -- and ended up winning 1-0. The real fun came against Bolivia, a game the USMNT dominated in a 4-0 victory. The best part of that one was the final goal, scored by Pulisic, the first USMNT goal for the 17-year-old who, after playing for Borussia Dortmund in the Bundesliga, has a chance to be the great USMNT superstar hope we've all been waiting for.

Posted by at June 1, 2016 6:07 PM

  

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