Before the USMNT’s last international match against France, I remember thinking about my expectations before the game. My only hope was that the team at least conjures enough offensive juice to score one goal against France, even if they give up three in the process. Obviously France would be putting together a full strength team for the game as a last attempt to tweak things before the World Cup. A full strength French team versus a bunch of new and upcoming kids for the USMNT. Yea one goal sounds nice. The team reached that goal and held on late to secure a 1-1 draw. It’s a bigger deal than some fans may understand.
We all have to remember the quality of opponent here. Anything other than a resounding loss is not normal. That is something that we as fans tend to lose in the heat of the moment when our team is outperforming expectations. We naturally lose sight of what is normally expected and it can unnaturally alter our perceptions as to how the game should play out, to even an unnatural extent.
I watched this game with my older brother, who himself is a big fan of the USMNT, and both of us laughed as we imagined this team scoring even a goal against France. After all, France is one of the favorites to win the World Cup this summer. However, by the time we were nearing the end of the game, his attitude had changed. He was not joking as much as he became more and more focused on the game. Belief began to germinate in him. When Bobby Wood was off sides on what would have been a goal in the second half to put the US up 2-0, he erupted in displeasure. When the final whistle blew after 90 minutes he fumed about the missed opportunity. While of course this is normal and good to want and hope for this team to win in a game they should have had no chance in, we cannot let it distract from how amazing the result still was that they managed to get a draw.
This team has been completely revamped. Almost no one on this current roster was physically present during the World Cup qualifying cycle. Normally the old guard gets slowly phased out as newer players begin to replace them, but the entire slate has been swept clean in this case. This is important because that means a new mentality can be built up with this team. By all accounts the mentality of the team suffered the most over Klinsmann’s five year tenure.
That fire and belief has always been the core of what constitutes the makeup of American teams. Being able to compete and play better than the sum of their parts. From the shocking 1-0 win against England in the 1950 World Cup, to the 2-0 victory over Spain the Confederations Cup. It’s that mental fortitude that has defined these teams. For the first time in my viewing life I saw it fade as the team slowly deteriorated over Klinsmann’s tenure. By the time they reached the Hex they were mentally worn out.
Now some will point to the 19-2 shot difference between France and the United States and that is a legitimate point. Never mind the fact that this is friendly. It’s obvious that France is by far the more quality team at this point and time. The focus is on the mentality of this team and how it might affect them going forward. Results do not matter technically, but if they get blown out 5-0 do you think that might alter their perception of themselves as a team going forward? It would simply reinforce the narrative that the US is not good enough and they need to keep bottom feeding on lower level teams as they are still unable to compete against the big dogs. This team might prove that notion to be a bit antiquated.
Obviously we want this team to keep advancing and growing to the point where they do not have to be underdogs against any team in the world. We have to still be realistic though and accept we’re not at that point yet. Getting back that winning attitude is the most important first step this team could have possibly made. In their first true test as a team they came together as one and outperformed the sum of their parts. This is a bunch of young kids that could be together for another decade. This game could be the foundation upon which their team is built. With that mindset and an increasingly improving talent pool, there is a legitimate reason to be excited about our chances in the future.