New England Soccer Today

Top 5 of 2011: U.S. Men’s National Team

Adu's brief reemergence to the international scene during the Gold Cup was one of the most intriguing stories of 2011. (Photo: Chris Aduama/

If 2011 was a roller coaster year of the U.S. Men’s National Team, it was a ride that featured more plunges than peaks. A disappointing second place finish in the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup was followed by the sacking of head coach Bob Bradley after a five-year tenure that included a run to the 2009 Confederations Cup Final and a trip to the 2011 World Cup Round of 16.

Jürgen Klinsmann’s hiring brought renewed hope, but the German got off to a slow start and finished the year 2-4-1 in his new role. Overall, the U.S. finished 2011 at 6-8-3, its first losing record since 1997.

Despite the disappointments, 2011 also brought its share of reasons to be optimistic about the future. A few of them are presented below in our Top 5 moments for the U.S. Men’s National Team in 2011.

5. Adu’s brief revival. Much to nearly everyone’s astonishment,  Bob Bradley decided the time had come to give Freddy Adu another look when he assembled his Gold Cup squad. Although the selection may have raised eyebrows, it came as little surprise when the former teen phenom, who had played himself into obscurity in Europe, found himself rooted to the bench for the first four matches of the competition. Then, just when it appeared that Adu’s inclusion was nothing more than a glorified trial, the 22-year-old came on as a sub in the semifinal against Panama in the midst of a 0-0 game. And what a difference he made. With the Nats attack stagnant, Adu injected much needed creativity and as full time approached, set up Clint Dempsey’s game-winner to give Bradley’s boys the 1-0 edge. He would go on to start final against Mexico, and set up both of his team’s goals before El Tri pummeled the U.S. with four unanswered strikes to earn the tournament championship with a 4-2 win. Despite a move back to MLS with the Philadelphia Union, Adu’s club form didn’t show the same spark he had on the international stage. Klinsmann selected Adu for his first squad in charge, but Adu didn’t play in the match against Mexico and has yet to get another sniff at playing for the U.S.

4. Improved friendly competition. A clear trend to increase the quality of the opposition continued in 2011. With a friendly against the current FIFA World Cup Champions Spain, as well as others against Argentina, France and Mexico, and strong nations such as Slovenia, Belgium, Ecuador, Chile and Paraguay on the schedule, the U.S accumulated plenty of opportunities to test themselves against the world’s best. In addition to a 3-2 win over Slovenia, highlights included a 1-1 draw with Argentina, and a respectable performance in a 1-0 loss to France. The 4-0 loss to Spain in which coach Bradley left out many starters to rest for what seemed an easy Gold Cup match with Canada was among the lowlights.

3. U.S. 3-2 Slovenia. Perhaps the biggest disappointment in the early days of the Klinsmann Era was the struggles of the U.S. to generate offense. The U.S. scored just twice in their first nine hours of play under the former German striker, but finally sprung to life in their final match of 2011, a 3-2 friendly win over Slovenia that featured first half goals from Clint Dempsey, Edson Buddle and Jozy Altidore. The match marked one of the rare times in which Klinsmann employed two strikers and its success may implore the coach to rethink his strategy going forward. Also worth mentioning – the 3-2 win was the U.S.A.’s first on European soil since 2008.

2. Klinsmann takes charge. After years of speculation, the U.S. announced finally got their man – Jürgen Klinsmann – after Bob Bradley was relieved of his head coaching duties in July. Klinsmann, who many expected to take the role before Bradley’s reign began in 2006, had quite the resume having played in many of the top leagues in Europe and for the German National Team, as well as managing Bayern Munich and Germany. His hiring brought hope of a new style of play and an attacking approach due in large part to his pedigree as a striker, though the goals didn’t come till the final match of the year.

1. Brek’s breakout. Perhaps no story should bring more hope for the future of the U.S. National Team than the emergence of Brek Shea as a creative attacking force. While the 21-year-old made his debut under Bradley, he was a revelation under Klinsmann. Shea made eight appearances for the U.S. this year and was often the most dangerous player for the team, even while the squad was struggling to score. Shea’s unique combination of size, speed and creativity made him a dangerous man down the left flank many a time in 2011. For a team that often relies entirely on Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan for creativity in the attack, Shea’s breakout performance could add a much needed new dimension to the U.S. offense. Shea may just be the best thing to happen to the U.S. since Dempsey’s breakthrough nearly seven years ago.

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