Disappointing results dominated the landscape for both the womens and mens teams this year as some famous names slipped off center stage
1) The Carlos Ruiz experience
The USMNT had never lost a World Cup qualifying game in Guatemala when they played there in March, but a 21-game unbeaten streak against their opponents was about to end in abject fashion.
Not for the last time this year, the teams concentration on restarts would be their achilles heel. First Mix Diskerud was left flailing as Rafael Morales headed Guatemala into an early lead, then the veteran Carlos Ruiz sprinted off the last man and slid the ball under Tim Howard while the US center-backs were still turning near the halfway line.
El Pescadito had made a habit of tormenting American defenders in his various MLS incarnations in a long career, but the sight of the 36 year-old journeyman running away from the latest candidates in Jrgen Klinsmanns center-back carousel (Michael Orozco and Omar Gonzalez), was a particularly galling image for US fans to start the year with.
The US were fortunate to have the opportunity to remedy things immediately, and four days later they put four past Guatemala in their then reliable fortress of Columbus, but the positive mood that result engendered (boosted by the competitive debut of the much-heralded Christian Pulisic) could not quite erase the intensifying sense of unease about Klinsmanns team selections and tactics.
2) Olympic failure, part one
Colombia turned out to be a regular deflater of US soccer pretensions this year, though perhaps never so emphatically as in the playoff series for a spot at the Olympics in March. The USMNT-U23 team had secured a credible 1-1 draw in Colombia in the first leg, only to fall apart in the return losing 2-1, ending the game with nine men and generally chasing shadows. Kellyn Acosta endured a particularly torrid time at full back, and the gulf in class and ambition between the two teams looked particularly worrying for US fans wondering about the next generation.
For the first time in 50 years the USA would miss successive Olympic tournaments, but perhaps more to the point the master plan for this World Cup cycle was in further disarray. After the 2014 World Cup, Klinsmann had envisaged a smooth procession of competitive soccer leading up to Russia 2018, but now key losses had eliminated both the 2017 Confederations Cup and the 2016 Olympics from that notional schedule.
3) The US women score lots and lots of goals and then fewer goals
After the surprise 1-0 home loss to China that ended the World Cup winning 2015, the USWNT resumed normal service at the start of 2016, as their traveling circus roamed the country scoring goals for fun. Until a 3-3 draw with Japan ended the sequence in early summer, the US won 11 games in a row scoring an eye-watering 42 goals and conceding just one in the process, against Germany.
The latter game was also distinguished for featuring a great goal by Alex Morgan. Though perhaps more importantly for the US, it came within the context of a run of tight games at the #SheBelieves tournament, as they tried to ramp up the intensity to defend their Olympic title. Single goal wins over England and France gave a rather clearer benchmark of where the US were than 10-0 wins over Puerto Rico, but such is the unbalanced lot of the womens national team schedule, and even if the warning signs had been there during the World Cup win, it seemed inconceivable that the USA would not lift themselves for the medal rounds of the Olympics.
4) Copa America finish flatters the USA
The USAs Copa America Centenario started and ended with losses to Colombia, and while the team matched Klinsmanns stated ambition of reaching the semi-finals, the manner of their dismantling when they got there made sure that no fan was left with any illusions about the teams current standing. Lionel Messi and Argentina saw to that, as they overran the USMNT 4-0, before Colombia beat the hosts 1-0 in the third-place game.
And yet with the World Cup qualifiers ahead there were encouraging signs. Despite again missing an injured Jozy Altidore from a summer tournament, the US attack found its groove, inspired by the irrepressible Clint Dempsey, and with Booby Wood continuing an upward trajectory that continued throughout the year. Klinsmann too, showed signs of adapting smartly as the tournament went on reshaping his midfield to overwhelm Costa Rica in the second group game, and persisting with the formula right up to the Argentina game. But then familiar frailties (lack of concentration early, lack of concentration at set pieces, lack of ideas when behind) reasserted themselves. The US werent humiliated at the tournament they hosted, but they didnt light it up either.
5) Losing to cowards
A relatively routine group stage for the USWNT at the Olympics was remarkable chiefly for the chants of ZIKA! that accompanied every touch of the ball by Hope Solo (whod somewhat injudiciously chosen to tweet about her fears of the disease before the tournament), and just as in Canada last year there was the expectation that they would now begin to go through the gears en route to the final.
But then came Sweden, and former US boss Pia Sundhage, in the quarter-finals. The US attacked from the start and had 27 shots to Swedens six, but Swedens counter-attacking was more efficient than the USAs pressure. It took a 77th minute Alex Morgan goal to take the game to extra-time, but it proved to be a temporary reprieve, as Sweden won on penalties to deliver the worst tournament finish in years for the USA.
And it was Tabloid Hope rather than Athlete Solo wholl be remembered from this tournament, particularly after her post-game comments following the Sweden elimination: We played a bunch of cowards. The best team did not win today. I strongly, firmly believe that Sweden dropped back. They didnt want to open play. They didnt want to pass the ball around. They didnt want to play great soccer, entertaining soccer. It was a combative game. A physical game. Exactly what they wanted. Exactly what their game plan was. We had that style of play when Pia was our coach. I think it was very cowardly.
Sundhage, well used to the antics of her piece of work former charge, wasnt bothered: Its OK to be a coward if you win.
6) Breaking up the band
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