By FRANCO PANIZO
If there is something that 2014 was not for the U.S. Men’s National Team, it’s boring.
From a shocking omission to a surprising public feud, there were several intriguing storylines involving the U.S. these last 12 months. Fans and media had plenty to talk about, as a World Cup year came with plenty of subplots that ranged from controversial to stimulating.
The SBI staff took a look back at some of the more interesting stories involving Jurgen Klinsmann and his national team this year, and came up with a list of the top moments that U.S. observers are sure to remember.
Here are SBI’s top five U.S. storylines of 2014:
5. JONES EMERGES AS A STAR
From scapegoat to hero. All in a matter of months.
Jermaine Jones wasn’t universally liked by U.S. fans at the start of the year. Not even close. But persistent questions about his regular place in the lineup washed away like sand on the beach, as Jones pieced together an incredible World Cup performance in the summer. The veteran midfielder not only put forth Man of the Man-worthy performances throughout the group stage, but he also stepped up from a leadership standpoint by taking on an increased role with the media. Jones used his successful first World Cup as a launchpad into moving to MLS, where he continued to shine with head-turning performances for the MLS Cup finalist New England Revolution.
4. LEGENDS RETIRE
Plenty of eyes may be on the future of Klinsmann’s team, but only because several U.S. legends decided to retire internationally or all together this year.
Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo all officially ended their long-standing tenures with the U.S. in 2014. Donovan, Bocanegra and Cherundolo hung up their cleats for good at different points in the year, while Beasley decided to walk away from the international game despite planning to continue to play on the club level. It was a true passing of the torch, with questions still remaining as to who will step up and fill their places over the long haul.
3. KLINSMANN vs. GARBER
In a fight that maybe even Rocky Balboa would have stayed out of, U.S. head coach Klinsmann and MLS commissioner Don Garber squared off in the public domain this fall.
Klinsmann came out tossing light jabs, first saying he intended to call in his best players during an international window that fell in the middle of MLS’s intense race for the playoffs. Then, the German began throwing haymakers, refusing to label MLS as the U.S. first division and saying that he was a fan of the promotion-relegation system used throughout the world.
Klinsmann then went tried to go for the knock-out blow, talking about Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey would find it tough to regain their top form after leaving Europe for lucrative offers in MLS.
Garber refused to go down without putting up a fight, calling for an impromptu teleconference with national media members in which he lashed out at Klinsmann’s criticisms. Garber even went as far as saying the U.S. coach’s comments were detrimental to the league, and personally infuriating.
This was a heavyweight fight in all aspects.
2. SURVIVING THE GROUP OF DEATH
The U.S. was never supposed to advance from its hard World Cup group, but the Americans either never got that script or ignored it all together.
The U.S. captured the attention of a nation this summer, compiling a 1-1-1 record down in Brazil to move out of what was largely considered the tournament’s ‘Group of Death’. The Americans first beat long-time World Cup rival Ghana courtesy of a late dramatic goal, then had Portugal on the brink of defeat before conceding an equalizer near the death, and finally were beaten by a talented Germany that went on to win the World Cup.
The level of play in the three matches varied and didn’t necessarily please all observers, but it was still enough to accomplish the goal the U.S. had set out when it learned its World Cup fate last December.
1. DONOVAN’S OMISSION
While the previous storylines all grabbed their share of the conversation, nothing quite did so like Klinsmann’s decision to leave Donovan off the Americans’ World Cup roster.
Klinsmann controversially omitted Donovan from the 23-man squad that traveled to Brazil, saying the other players chosen ahead of the veteran were slightly better at that point in time. ESPN discussed the news at length, and a number of other major outlets also dissected the move aplenty. It was the talk of the town, with a number of national talking heads across the nation touching on the subject.
What came next was a verbal back-and-forth between Klinsmann and Donovan – whose relationship was later revealed as strained well before the surprise roster selection – that also saw Klinsmann’s son send out an infamous tweet mocking Donovan.
Things only got uglier with each passing week. Donovan was initially, and understandably, upset at first. He eventually cooled off, rooted for his U.S. teammates and made commercials mocking his absence from the squad. Still, he did work as an ESPN analyst and criticized Klinsmann’s tactics and approach during the World Cup.
Klinsmann chose to ignore it all despite facing a bevy of questions about the decision to leave Donovan behind, but their worlds collided again in October when U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati came up with the idea to honor Donovan’s legendary international career in a friendly vs. Ecuador. The match would allow Donovan to say farewell to the U.S. and its fans, but not before he and Klinsmann endured an awkward and unpleasant few days littered with questions about their past.
In the end, the two shared a brief embrace. It looked far from warm, however, and still hasn’t appeased upset supporters who believe Donovan should’ve been in Brazil helping the Americans’ cause.
What do you think of this list? Agree with the order? Which storyline most interested you?
Share your thoughts below.
DaMarcus Beasley did not step down this year! He kicked ass for the U.S.! I think Beasley becoming the first U.S. player to pay in for World Cups is a huge story line! Alas, we have to read about Donovan’s snub for the ten millionth time. I wish someone would give Beaz his due props.
This photo from Garber’s press conference in response to Jurgen’s pro rel and MLS comments was one of my favorite memories:
Both Don and klimsman should be voted as most detrimental to the growth of the sport in the US. Even as Both are making small fortunes in their respective tasks of growing the sport, they remarkably are key figures in actively destroying the sport. It is surprising that journalist have not asked the tough questions to these two.
as college football is all over tv this weekend you don’t hear the stewards of this sport discussing the flaws in the same manner that don and klimsman do. It should come then as no surprise that college football makes so much money even though it is a subpar version of the NFL. MLS will not grow until journalist embrace mls and question people that push mls and soccer as a second rate sport in the US.
I think Jurgen is overrated as a coach, but I’m not sure how you can say both men are “destroying” the sport. Hasn’t Garber just overseen the tripling of the TV contract? Not to mention the building of a dozen soccer stadiums over the past decade…
Comparing MLS to college football is an unfair comparison, considering that college football was actually bigger than the NFL until about 40-50 yrs ago, and soccer was nearly an underground sport for most of the 20th century in this country, especially as a spectator sport. The two sports were starting from completely different baselines.
Donovan criticizing JK’s tactics are routinely included as iif it could only be personally motivated. Well, plenty of folks criticized his tactics without having first been cut. Donovan’s comments were mild and, right in my opinion.
Jürgen no bueno.