“In My Opinion……….”

They did not pass out trophies in Columbus Crew Stadium. However, the celebration after the final whistle did feel good.
It was a “mission accomplished” feel-good moment, but there is yet work to be done.
The 2-0 victory over Mexico qualified the U.S. men for World Cup 2014 in Brazil. Costa Rica, which had snapped the USA’s 12-game winning streak three days earlier, 3-1 at home, also punched their ticket on Sept. 16 by tying Jamaica.
The U.S. team has two more games remaining in the final CONCACAF hexagonal qualifying round. While the U.S. is on it’s way, these two games are meaningful for the teams fighting for the third regional berth and fourth place and a last-chance series against New Zealand.
Despite playing without three starters, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler and Jozy Altidore, each serving yellow card accumulation suspensions, and without the injured Michael Bradley, the U.S. handed Mexico another 2-0 loss, the fourth consecutive qualifier loss at Columbus Crew Stadium.
Besler’s yellow card was way too bizarre to recount in this space. He didn’t touch the guy!
Altidore’s was maybe the dumbest in history. Down two[show_disconnected][show_to accesslevel=’Subscriber’] goals with time running out and already carrying a card, he intentionally contacted a player after the play was over. Brain freeze in the tropics!
After a uninspiring scoreless first half, the U.S. came alive in the second, scoring the first goal in the 49th minute on a brilliant header by Eddie Johnson. Landon Donovan poked in the second from two yards out in the 79th minute, finishing a ball played across the face of the goal from Mix Diskerud.
So celebrate they did. They had earned the moment. It had been a great ride after losing the hexagonal opener in Honduras in February.
But it is not a time to relax. Roster spots are still to be determined for next year’s World Cup. At the moment, coach Jurgen Klinsmann has a deep pool of players, but that all can quickly change as we saw when Stuart Holden went down against Panama on July 28 with a torn ACL, and Bradley suffered a severe ankle injury in warmups in Costa Rica.
Next up for the U.S. is Jamaica in Kansas City on Oct. 11 with the finale in Panama City on Oct. 16. The U.S. can still finish first in the hexagonal. That is a worthy goal. Recently, FIFA moved the U.S. up to #13 in the World Rankings. We need to justify that ranking by continuing to win.
It should be noted that Mexico, fifth in the final round standings, is in trouble. Unless they post wins in their final two games, they will likely not be traveling to Brazil.
They fired their coach before the game in Columbus, and replaced the interim with a new coach after the loss to the USA.
Ever since that snowy win over Costa Rica in Colorado that turned around the U.S. fortunes, this team has gained confidence. They became a fun team to watch as they built confidence during the Gold Cup.
Klinsmann has said he will call in his best players for the last two games. He said they would be playing for six points (two wins).
For those who might feel they have made the final roster, poor efforts can erode confidence. For others it is an opportunity to prove that they have earned consideration.
For everyone, finishing at the top of the final standings should be a matter of pride. Pride in accomplishment is a key ingredient for confidence.
Not just boastful pride, but confidence with commitment. And the learning process must continue.
All too often in the past, success for the U.S. MNT has been followed by flat, uninspired performances. While a World Cup final is about game-after-game, it is also about consistent achievement. Win and advance.
After all, they only hand out trophies after the final game!
There will be two kinds of teams among the 32 that will compete in Brazil next year.
There will be those who are happy to be there and happy to be playing on the world’s biggest soccer stage.
And there will be those who are there to win the world championship.
We will certainly know more about ourselves when World Cup 2014 has been completed.
Perhaps we are at the stage where we can dare to join those in the group that goes there to win. Not just say it, but believe it. Confidence is one of the tools a competitor needs to reach another level.
Believing you can win is different from “wanting” to win. Even different than “expecting” to win.
These next two games will give us a snapshot of just how far we have come as a national team.
All that said, a great lesson young players in our country, who will watch our national team compete, can take away from this is that competition is about the “struggle.”
It is about winning when you are the better team, and finding ways to achieve a victory when you are not. Achievement is seldom easy!
After all, 32 national teams will go to Brazil, and only one will receive the championship trophy.
And that would be the one that was not handed out in Columbus, Ohio.

Author: ray@southernsoccerscene.com

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