Pessimism has been the underlying theme of being a USMNT fan over the past three or four years. I've been follower of the national team for about 15 years. Never in that time has the overall level of confidence in the team been lower than it has been since 2014.
We're not here to try and figure out why almost every prognosticator and 'expert' want to believe that the United States will bow out in the group stage of the Copa America Centenario. It's time to inject some optimism into the team's Copa outlook. Here are five reasons you should be optimistic about the USA's chances at this summer's Copa America:
Playing up to their competition
The USMNT have always had a nasty habit of playing up to their competition. When they play in World Cup qualifiers they're supposed to dominate, they struggle. When they play some of the top teams in the world, they hold their own and surprise everyone.
Going up against some of the best teams in CONMEBOL and CONCACAF will undoubtedly be a tough test for Klinsmann's men, but as we saw in the 2014 World Cup, they'll likely find a way to compete with whoever is put in front of them. This isn't to say they'll win the whole tournament. It's just very unwise to believe they'll roll over because of a difficult group was put in front of them. If they can find a way overcome Ghana, Portugal, and Germany in Brazil, surely they put up a fight against Colombia, Costa Rica, and Paraguay at home.
The General falls back
Michael Bradley is back, ladies and gentleman. It's amazing how one simple position change can turn around the production and impact of a player. The Captain is back to playing the defensive midfielder role. Gone (hopefully) are the days of Bradley the No. 10. That experiment was a complete failure and wasted two years of Bradley's national team career. He's back at the No. 6 spot and playing like The General we once knew and loved.
If the USA are going to advance far in this tournament it will be on the back of Michael Bradley's leadership from that holding midfield position. It's no coincidence that USMNT's struggles the last two years have coincided with Bradley's decline in form. It's the same as it ever was. As Bradley goes, so goes the national team. And with him back in a comfortable spot and playing well, things are starting to look up.
As we broke down in our article from yesterday, the USMNT are beginning to develop a cohesive unit along their back line. Sure they don't have much experience together, but we're talking about four pros playing in two of the top leagues in the world. The friendlies gave us a glimpse that the potential for a reliable back four is there. Hopefully as the Copa America goes on they'll gel together even more and give the team a reason to be confident in their defending once again.
(But what about the goalkeeper, Rob?)
We don't talk about that.
The Summer of Wood
It's really been more like The Year of Wood. Bobby Wood has been in unbelievable form in the 2. Bundesliga this past season. It was enough to earn him a transfer to Hamburg just a few weeks ago. Since joining USMNT camp, Wood hasn't missed a beat. He scored a slick goal against Puerto Rico. Looked phenomenal as a second half sub against Ecuador when he was combining with others down the left wing. Then provided a lovely assist on Gyasi Zardes' second goal against Bolivia. Bobby Wood is a man in form and the Copa America is his chance to prove he's ready to become the a player the USMNT can rely on in big situations.
The future is now
Along with Wood, there are several other young(ish) players emerging onto the scene and becoming dynamic options for Klinsmann to utilize. Most notable are Christian Pulisic and Darlington Nagbe. Both players have been huge difference makers when coming off the bench in the past two friendlies. When you think of overall technical quality, the U.S. have struggled developing players who exude this.
Now, here come two players who wouldn't look out of place in any team in the world. They showed a glimpse of their abilities while combining for this lovely goal against Bolivia. While it's unclear what exactly both of their roles will be in this tournament, it's a guarantee that both will get their chances to make an impact when it matters most. If they can replicate their form from the previous two friendlies in the Copa America, it shouldn't been too long until they win a spot in Klinsmann's starting lineup.