‘We can be giants eventually’

DOHA, Qatar – Frustration paralyzed Tyler Adams for the first few minutes of the next four years. He injured his knee here at Khalifa International Stadium, shortly after the final whistle that thwarted his World Cup dreams. That forced him to crouch as the Netherlands huddled and celebrated their 3-1 victory over the United States. Finally lured him to the grass.

But as he sat there, his head bowed, amid sad stares and heartfelt condolences, his mind turned toward the future, and his mood changed.

“This is probably the first time in a long time that people are going to say, ‘Wow, this team has something special,’” Adams thought, later speaking about the men’s national team and public perceptions of it. “Potential is just potential, but we can see That if we maximize it in the right way, it can be a good thing.”

He was speaking, though, after a familiar World Cup result caused by familiar failures, last-16 exits, like 2014, 2010, and 1994. So I asked Adams: Why is this different?

“Uh, I mean, I think you should probably make that assessment for yourself,” he said. And he was right.

He continued, “With the players in our team compared to the previous teams – I was not in the 2010 team, and I was not in the 2014 team, so I cannot sit here and judge the potential of those teams.” “But, I mean, being the second-youngest team in a World Cup to achieve the same score, that speaks for itself.”

In fact, their starting four formations were the four youngest players in this World Cup. They were full of rising stars who had already stepped beyond many of their predecessors in the USMNT. Adams would not, perhaps out of respect for these predecessors, say that his team has more talent than theirs. But apparently it is.

However, her current talent is not the only reason for unprecedented optimism. Talent, as the vast majority of nations playing football can attest, tends to reach a high level in fits and starts, through random ebbs and flows.

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However, the hope within American football is that this isn’t just a golden generation poised to shine on home soil in 2026; It’s the beginning of a carefully designed trend, and a sign of better generations to come.

Soccer - 2022 FIFA World Cup Qatar - Round of 16 - Netherlands vs USA - Khalifa International Stadium, Doha, Qatar - December 3, 2022 USA players applaud fans after the match as the USA are eliminated from the World Cup REUTERS/Annegret Helles

United States players applaud the crowd after the match as the United States is eliminated from the World Cup. (Reuters / Annegret Hills)

USMNT is still in the works

The seeds for change, and the seeds for 2022 USMNT, were sown in the mid-2000s, when the guys who basically run American football realized that their youth development model was, as former NFL president Sunil Gulati told Yahoo Sports, “completely flipped.” .”

was lagging behind. The children were playing more than just training, going through more tests than classes. Somehow, FC Dallas Academy Director Chris Hayden told Yahoo Sports, “We were kind of developing players by accident.”

So in 2007, when the NFL increased its investment in youth programs, US Soccer launched its controversial Development Academy. The DA, as it became known, was a nationwide league that pitted the best teenage boys in America against each other on a weekly basis. She also scheduled three training sessions, and then four training sessions per week. It was fading early, ruffled in feathers, and outright infuriating some young football managers across the country. But it fixed a “broken” system, and especially with its expansion in the past decade, it went into production.

He has helped produce 17 of the 26 players on this year’s World Cup squad, including Adams, Christian Pulisic, Weston McKinney, Gio Reina and Brendan Aronson. US Soccer shut it down in 2020, but by then, MLS was ready to take over the boys’ soccer pyramid. The 29 clubs in the professional league now invest more than $100 million annually in developing local players. They hold reserve teams, which bridge the gap from youth to pro, and provide for their first teams—and also, by extension, for the United States men’s national team.

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They are increasingly attracting European scouts and sending teenagers to major European clubs. There are drawbacks, of course, many drawbacks, but “quality [American] Bayern’s academy president Jochen Sauer told Yahoo Sports in 2018. Many believe it has continued to increase since then, and the country’s development systems are “scratching the surface”.

By extension, so is the USMNT. The 2022 World Cup ended up on par with expectations, but several people interviewed for a pre-tournament story on youth development cautioned against a four-game possession. Many believe that the best evidence will emerge four years from now and beyond.

“We will see the final result in five to ten years,” said Sebastian Drimler, another Bayern youth coach. “[In 2026]You will have a very strong national team.”

Weston McKinney (far right) quarterback Tyler Adams (4) after the United States' loss to the Netherlands in the World Cup Round of 16 at Khalifa International Stadium on December 3, 2022 in Al-Rayyan, Qatar.  (Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports)

Weston McKinney (far right) quarterback Tyler Adams (4) after the United States’ loss to the Netherlands in the World Cup Round of 16 at Khalifa International Stadium on December 3, 2022 in Al-Rayyan, Qatar. (Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports)

The American public should be optimistic

The 2026 World Cup seemed a long way off as grim faces emerged from Khalifa on Saturday night. Rina refused to be interviewed. Pulisic’s voice was weak and painful. Tim Ream was bubbling with emotion as he realized that, unlike many of his colleagues, at 35, he likely wouldn’t get another shot at this point.

But under the gloomy faces was perspective.

“The future is bright,” said Riam selflessly. “I mean, this core group—and when I say core group, I mean, it’s the 22-, 23-, 24-year-old guys who haven’t even made it to the top yet—the potential is just huge in this next cycle. The program is in good hands with these guys. Good characters. Good players. Good people. … I’m excited about what they’ll be able to do on the world stage.”

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DeAndre Yedlin, the remaining member of the 2014 team, was asked if this sounds like a step forward or a sideways step, and he said, “I think it’s a step forward.”

“There is huge potential, and if you don’t see it,” Matt Turner said, without holding back — well, he doesn’t know what to tell you. “We played against England, we played Holland, and we gave both teams a really tough time.”

And perhaps most importantly, they did so proactively rather than reactively. They wanted the ball. When opponents won it, they wanted it back. They quarreled physically and tactically with England. They made a top 10 team in the world, the Netherlands, basically deciding that their best hope of beating the United States was to compromise possession and strike back.

“They have to gain confidence about the fact that we can play with anyone in the world the way we want to play,” said coach Greg Berhalter. “This is the important thing.”

This does not mean that the USMNT has reached Dutch or English levels. There was still a gap in quality that revealed itself Saturday night at key moments.

But the quality will go up with experience and age. The youth system should provide more of it.

“For us to play the smallest teams in the World Cup four times in a row, and still be able to play the way we are — the American public has to be hopeful,” Berhalter said.

As a group, he and his players set out four years ago to “change the way the world looks at American football,” McKinney reiterated Saturday night. “I think we accomplished part of that in this World Cup,” said McKinney. Berhalter felt that they “partly achieved it”.

But the Holy Grail has always been changing the way America looks at men’s American soccer. They will only do so by winning. And here in Qatar, even though they only won once, they have shown that, one day, they will surely win a lot.

“I think this tournament has really brought back a lot of confidence, brought back a lot of respect for American football, and for soccer in our country,” McKinney said. “I think we’ve shown that we can be giants eventually. We may not be there yet, but I think we’re definitely on our way.”

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