It could have been boring, mundane, even uneventful. It could have been straightforward, unexciting, deserving of a shrug of the shoulders and a “meh.” A second consecutive kind World Cup draw for the U.S. Men’s national team, this time perhaps in the “Group of Life” with Switzerland, Ecuador and France, may have provided more room for comfort and confidence for American fans ahead of June, but may as well have offered less to truly capture the imagination of the neutral.
What the United States - as well as Germany, Portugal, and Ghana - have gotten instead, if not the toughest group in Brazil 2014, is the most drama-filled pairing of them all. For a spectacle that comes just once every four years, Friday’s draw at the Costa do Sauípe Resort in Bahia provided three match-ups that are truly worth the wait.
As Jozy Altidore said after the draw, “this isn’t the Group of Death, but a Group of Opportunity.”
Tuesday marks the anniversary of the day that John Brooks became a household name for American sports fans. June 16th was the day that Brooks went from a curiosity – known only by the most devoted American Outlaws and soccer pundits – to USA legend.
Last year at this time, the Americans were in Brazil at the World Cup. Clint Dempsey sent the U.S. in to hysterics with a beautiful solo goal within 30 seconds of kickoff – good for the fifth-fastest goal in World Cup history. And this against Ghana, the team that had knocked the USMNT out the past two tournaments finally seemed slain.
Instead, to the horror of American fans, Ghana went on to equalize in the 82nd minute, seemingly resigning the Americans to a draw in their first group game.
Then came Brooks. He scored the game-winning goal and sent his teammates, the crowd, and fans across the globe into a frenzy.
Now one year removed, the USMNT has another unlikely new hero in its midst. Bobby Wood, the scorer of the game-winning goals against both the Netherlands and Germany, has suddenly found himself elevated to international stardom.
These two American wins saw the Americans snap a disappointing streak of post-World-Cup games that consisted of solid first halves followed by late collapses.
That problem seems to be gone and Jurgen Klinsmann has pushed his team to No. 27 in the FIFA world rankings. It could be higher, but with the lineups that Klinsmann has put out, opting to put younger players – like Wood – through trials by fire and seeing who remains, the USMNT has done well against quality opposition.
With many of the younger players plying their trade in the Bundesliga or the English Championship, Klinsmann is getting more production from the youth ranks while still being able to rely on veterans like Michael Bradley, Kyle Beckerman and Jozy Altidore, when healthy.
So on this day, remember what Brooks did to Ghana but also think about what he may be able to do in three years in Russia. The future looks bright for the Americans. You don’t have to look too far in to the past to realize that.