One of the biggest narratives that always surrounds United States national team analysis is that of an identity or a style.
Since day one of his tenure, Jurgen Klinsmann has preached about playing a more "proactive" style. His plan was to overhaul the way the USMNT plan for opponents, especially the bigger countries. Under Bob Bradley and Bruce Arena, the national team were known as a plucky counter-attacking team that always punched above their weight. Pundits all around the world would praise Americans for their superior fitness and ability to run another team into the ground.
That was the USMNT's identity for the better part of 10 years. When Klinsmann entered the picture his aim was to transform the American style to match that of Spain or Germany. A team who can possess the ball against the best in the world with utter confidence. It was a noble goal. It should be every big country's dream to become among the best in the world.
Unfortunately that transition cannot happen overnight. Klinsmann did everything he could to install a possession oriented style. Many different formations and tactics have been used with mixed results. The USMNT lost any sense of normalcy and their results and confidence showed it. Players had no idea which position they'd play on a consistent basis or what system they'd be asked to use. Instead of developing an new identity, the one that worked quite well was stripped away.
It had become a chore to watch the national team the past few years. There was no energy or excitement exuding from their performances. The continuous losses and poor showings against teams the U.S. should be crushing were depressing. The Gold Cup last year was the lowest of the low for any national team fan.
This Copa America has finally been the turning point for Klinsmann and the national team. Something clicked for all involved. Finally we've seen a consistent USMNT lineup. And a return to the blue collar, hardworking style that earned them so much respect in the past. The dream of playing a beautiful passing and possession style has been put on hold. The return to the proven formula of a compact shape and unmatched work rate has reinvigorated the team and its fan base.
The pride of watching the USMNT is back. Supporters ultimately don't care about possession statistics or beautiful soccer, or at least they shouldn't. It's the heart and desire shown by the team in big matches that makes them proud to be a supporter of the USA. Winning matches however possible will cure anything. The joy is back and the return to an American style of play to thank.
It also doesn't hurt to have a dominant center back like John Brooks finally take the next step in his development and become a reliable rock to lead the back four. When you have a steady base to work with it makes life a lot easier for any coach. The USMNT had Eddie Pope, Carlos Bocanegra, and Oguchi Onyewu in the past but lacked a dependable defender since Steve Cherundolo retired. It appears that Brooks has emerged as that rock and it makes Klinsmann's job a lot easier.
However, Jurgen deserves a lot of credit for the turnaround. His plan of transforming the national team's style is a very ambitious one. He's finally given in to the idea of playing the American way instead of trying to reinvent the wheel. The United States are not Spain or Germany. More and more technical players are being developed. Maybe in 20 years the USMNT could adopt a style that is able to dominate any team in the world. That's just not realistic at this current point in time.
The hardworking, counter-attacking style that worked so well for Bradley and Arena is finally back and it's bearing the same success. It's the American way and that's not changing any time soon.