International soccer never quits, does it? The World Cup comes and goes, and then it’s on to the next four-year cycle. The United States men’s national team goes into 2015 riding a long winless streak, with some serious questions about where they stand. The new year presents an opportunity to refresh, to put the World Cup behind them for good and focus on the future. Here are 15 goals I would set for Jurgen Klinsmann’s team in 2015.
1. Win the Gold Cup.
Every year needs an overarching theme, and this should be it for the Americans. At the very least, a victory in the regional championship gets them an invitation to the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia. As the saying goes: Anytime you can earn an extra trip to Russia, you gotta take it.
2. Win some games.
The Americans ended the year on a four-game winless streak, the longest of the Klinsmann era, and won just one of their last eight matches. The schedule in 2015 doesn’t get any easier, with matches against Chile, Switzerland, Mexico, the Netherlands, Germany, and Brazil on the docket — but games against Panama and Denmark are winnable, and the U.S. certainly has a shot in the rest. They can beat the best; they just haven’t yet.
3. Play better.
Losing is bad, but playing without inspiration is worse, especially during friendlies designed to help the Americans find their style. You have to go back to the September win against the Czech Republic to find a half in which the U.S. looked good for more than a 15-minute stretch, and all the way back to June’s 2-2 draw with Portugal for a match that they controlled (until whoops). While Klinsmann rarely had his first team outside of the games in Brazil and the associated tune-ups, and while inserting younger players necessarily leads to disjointed play, the effort looked lacking at points. Blame it on a World Cup hangover, but make it stop.
4. End the silly fight between Klinsmann and Major League Soccer.
No one wins.
5. Figure out what to do with Michael Bradley.
Klinsmann seems determined to play America’s best midfielder in an advanced role, more of a no. 8/10 than a no. 6, if you want to get all tactical about positioning. That’s where he deployed Bradley in Brazil, and the midfielder failed to live up to the lofty expectations that we all had for him. It’s a bit of a conundrum: Bradley is one of the team’s best creators …
… but he’s better a bit farther back, using his vision and understanding to be at the right place at the right time. With Jermaine Jones apparently moving to center back, Kyle Beckerman not getting any younger, and creative younger midfielders like Mix Diskerud maturing, you’d think Bradley would fit best in the holding position. Will he get a chance?
6. Get every player a website.
Each of which should be custom-made by the genius behind jermaine-jones.de.
7. Qualify for the U-20 World Cup.
The tournament is in January and should feature up-and-comers like FC Dallas’s Kellyn Acosta, San Jose’s Tommy Thompson, and Tyler Turner from Orlando City. Assuming the Stars and Stripes reach the main event, an improvement on 2013’s 22nd-out-of-24 finish would be a good place to start, with a trip to the quarterfinals a realistic aim.
8. Find out who is for real.
Rubio Rubin. Jordan Morris. Miguel Ibarra. Bobby Wood. Alfredo Morales. Greg Garza. Lee Nguyen. Emerson Hyndman. Luis Gil. Joe Gyau. Ten players who were not part of the 2014 cycle who could play a key role going forward. They each earned a cap following the World Cup with varying degrees of success. Some, like Rubin, immediately showed they can hang; others need another look. The spate of friendlies will give Klinsmann a chance to see what he has.
9. Bring in the new guys.
While we’re trying out players, let’s get caps for FC Dallas’s Tesho Akindele and Matt Hedges, Gyasi Zardes from the Los Angeles Galaxy, Columbus Crew midfielder Wil Trapp, and D.C. United’s Steve Birnbaum.
10. Get Klinsmann to follow more people on Twitter.
11. Cheer for the USWNT in the World Cup.
The women, looking for their first World Cup win since 1999, got drawn into the Group of Death and deserve all the support they can get.
12. More peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for Tim Howard.
You don’t want to wildly speculate, but could the lack of acceptable PB&Js be the real reason he decided to take a year off from the national team?
13. Install Brad Guzan as the no. 1.
Take nothing away from Nick Rimando, who has been excellent, but Guzan is the future and should step into the starter’s role in Howard’s absence.
14. Don’t tell Diskerud it’s November.
15. Have some fun.
Sports are, of course, A Very Serious Thing, and Klinsmann isn’t wrong in his continued quest to professionalize the USMNT and transform soccer culture in America. But man, for a dude who is supposed to be a fun-loving, laid-back Californian, he sure has sucked a lot of joy out of his team. It’s just soccer, man. Why not loosen up a bit?