Neil W. Blackmon
What better way to spend your New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day holiday than by reviewing the year that was in US Soccer with your friends at The Yanks Are Coming? Okay, so there are probably other things on your agenda. But please accept our best wishes to you, our readers, on the New Year and all the best to you and your loved ones in 2014. It’s a World Cup year. Let that sink in, and remember that one of the sadder, poignant facts of a soccer fan’s life is that if you’re lucky, you only get about twenty World Cup years in your lifetime, and of those, only fifteen or so that you remember. Enjoy it.
An Alamo at the Azteca.
Jozy Altidore against Germany.
The Prodigal Son Returneth from Cambodia.
The Prodigal Son delivers a continental championship.
Abby Wambach chasing Mia.
Abby Wambach catching Mia.
Alex Morgan chasing Abby.
Sydney Leroux chasing Alex Morgan.
Twitter chasing Clint Dempsey.
The winning streak.
Dos a cero. Again.
Statement in Sarajevo.
Top of the Hex. Again.
Zusi saves Mexico.
That’s just a sampling of the year that was, folks.
2013 was a massive year for US Soccer. The men won the continental championship in dominant fashion, reclaiming the title that had eluded them for six years. They also qualified for the World Cup in style, winning the Hex for the third consecutive cycle and cementing their status as the most dominant soccer nation in CONCACAF, a region Sacha Kljestan told TYAC was “easily the toughest it has ever been.” What’s more- the American men rattled off a world-best winning streak that fell just short of Spain’s all-time record, defeating the likes of Germany, Mexico and Bosnia and Herzegovina along the way. Players we’d long waited for on the potential front flashed it: Jozy Altidore couldn’t stop scoring, Brad Guzan saved a Barclay’s Premier League side from relegation, Mix Diskerud became a cult sensation. Players we didn’t know we had emerged: Aron Johannsson chose the US and then influenced nearly every match he played a role in, giving the US a slice and dice, free-running wing/inside-forward option it hasn’t had since a young Landon Donovan in 2002; Matt Besler went from one short pop-up US camp invite to perhaps CONCACAF’s finest positional defender, and he did so in twelve months. Players re-appeared: the aforementioned Donovan exploded in the Gold Cup, answering questions about his desire with a smile on his face and a golden touch at his feet; DaMarcus Beasley revived his national team career by appearing more than any other American in 2013, captaining the Gold Cup side and locking down a starting gig in Brazil with defending far better than he gets credit for, and effort far greater than we thought he had left in the tank. So it was a year about players.
It was also a year about a manager taking great steps forward in delivering on his promise to have an attacking American side that backs down against no one and plays a brand of soccer that is both entertaining and capable of producing fine results. Jurgen Klinsmann delivered a point in Mexico playing the old-American way: with grit and defense and guile and blood and heroic goalkeeping. Jurgen Klinsmann beat Germany, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mexico and Honduras playing the new way: attacking, with a high line defensively and the tactical smarts to adjust when initial plans didn’t go as well as you’d like. Klinsmann’s reward, of course, was the most difficult World Cup draw in the history of the federation: demons Ghana, a maniacally good Germany, and Portugal, with the world’s finest footballer, await in Brazil, but the manager’s calm is just that: calming. There’s a quiet confidence you have to appreciate. And 2013 provided results, always the best foundation for confidence.
If the men were better than ever in 2013, the US Women, under a new manager, were something beyond that, something north of exceptional. They didn’t lose and were rarely threatened. Abby Wambach broke Twitter- a remarkable feat for the women’s game in a non-World Cup or Olympic year- and Mia Hamm’s all-time goals record, and of course she did so with her head. Alex Morgan continued to rise in stature in the global women’s game, receiving World Player of the Year consideration and proving the American goal-scorers factory is an always-producing, ever-growing club. Sydney Leroux blossomed, her role as a super sub becoming something more, something grander, as she scored goal after goal, including a scintillating one in the final game of 2013, a Giggs-like slalom run through four Brazilian defenders in Orlando.
Christen Press gave the US yet another attacking option, and it was a sight to see. We’ve long heard she may be the most technically gifted player the US has ever produced, and her numbers at Stanford are woman among girls high-school like, but we’d yet to see it in a US shirt. That all changed this year, when she scored three times in her first two matches and proved the US can beat you so many ways in attack it’s not particularly fair.
Carli Lloyd built on her London heroics, playing 90-plus in nearly every US match and orchestrating the US midfield in ways we haven’t seen in a decade. Lloyd can stretch defenses with her deft long-passing ability or cut you apart with short distributions, but under Tom Sermanni, Lloyd has been given the opportunity to play more advanced, and has given the US tempo to accompany the embarrassment of riches they have at forward. It’s a lethal cocktail and one that has made the absence of Shannon Boxx less painful. Boxx will return next year, as the US begin the qualifying process for 2015.
Hope Solo has been Hope Solo, and thank your lucky stars for that. When the US were stretched and protecting a lead and undefeated year in Orlando against Brazil, Solo delivered time and time again. When Brianna Scurry got the nod for the USWNT All-Time Eleven, Solo delivered there too, calling out voters on Twitter. Sure, it wasn’t the most gracious or humble move, but we love Solo because she’s so competitive and unique, and if she’d simply stayed quiet, it would have been ordinary, a word that will never describe Hope.
These are just some of the stories in a year that was, in your writer’s view, the finest non-World Cup year in the history of US Soccer. And in the next six months, the US will prepare for something even more grand, achievement in a Group of Death.
If you’re like me, you can’t wait to see what happens next.
Neil W. Blackmon is Co-Founder and Co-Editor of The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter at @nwb_usmnt.