After the successful summer the U.S. men's national team had this year, one big question remains: Can the Americans top it next summer?
The United States heads into the final two CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers knowing it already has earned a spot in the World Cup next June in Brazil. This is no time for a vacation, though.
"It's incredibly important," former Chicago Fire and U.S. forward Brian McBride said of the work coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his players must do over the next several months. "Anytime you go into a World Cup the fitness and health of a team is just as important as the quality. Especially for a team that isn't necessarily as talented as the top teams in the world. We want us to be, but we're not there yet.
"So your fitness levels count. Being able to play three and hopefully seven games at the highest pace, recover quickly and do it again is what sets the good teams closer to the great teams that are in that tournament."
Cory Gibbs, a former Fire and U.S. defender, said he was surprised Klinsmann didn't use the qualifiers Friday night against Jamaica (5:30 p.m., ESPN) and Tuesday at Panama (8 p.m., beIn Sport) to look at more players, but he sees the purpose to what Klinsmann is doing.
"He's setting the bar. He wants to qualify and qualify strong," said Gibbs, now doing broadcast work for MLSSoccer.com and beIn TV as well as working with agent Richard Motzkin at Wasserman Media Group.
Still, there is time over the next few months to bring in other players to see how they fit. The United States will have several friendly matches over the next few months.
"If you look at what Jurgen's tried to do, he's tried to preach consistency," McBride said. "I'm sure there'll be changes. I'm sure there'll be guys who are on the fringes that Jurgen wants to see, at least I think that would be the case. It's time to really show they can fit into the team and be as consistent as the guys they're behind."
"There are players on the bubble right now that could have been getting a better eye," Gibbs added, noting how Jimmy Conrad and Robbie Findley worked their way onto the roster for recent World Cups. Forward Aron Johannsson and midfielders Mix Diskerud and Sacha Kljestan are players Gibbs would like to see more of, each of whom could get a chance against Jamaica and Panama.
How far a team goes in June depends on several factors, McBride and Gibbs agreed.
"The World Cup's a whole 'nother ballgame," Gibbs said. "It's all about who's peaking at the time."
"I'd be disappointed if they didn't go to the next round," added McBride, a studio analyst for Fox Sports 1. "And after that it's up in the air because anything can happen. It's a one-off. Again, who you draw, who you play against, who's healthy, those things become huge factors. Fitness and the health of the team is either going to allow them to go further than they have been before or hamper them to peter out.
"It's very possible (they'll advance past the group stage). I think they have enough talent. I think they have enough depth going forward to cause teams problems in any type of situation. I think we need to shore up the defensive line. I think our wingbacks, we really need to figure out who's going to help us there."
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