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World Cup: USA 2, Ghana 1 – What It Means to the U.S. Soccer Brand

June 20, 2014

This 2-1 win is important for three reasons:

1.  The “Obvious Reason” – The U.S. is tied with Germany atop Group G.

2.  The “Not So Obvious Reason” – The first substitute goal for the U.S. in World Cup history was registered by John Brooks, not Landon Donovan.

3.  The “Open For Discussion Reason” – Jürgen Klinsmann, the U.S. National Men’s Coach and Federation Technical Director, has a contract through 2018 (that fact is not open for discussion). He is not timid about speaking his mind concerning the future of American soccer and how it should “look,” and the U.S. Soccer Federation is giving him its blessing. He has been given the opportunity and the responsibility of building the U.S. Soccer brand.  

In the lifespan of soccer, four years is an eternity for national team managers. Just ask any Mexican soccer fan, as that team is on its 4th manager since 2013. But for a country like the U.S., which has no recognizable identity on the field, that time is necessary.  

Face it, most countries don’t have the patience for a manager to say, “Build now, win later.” But most soccer-oriented countries don’t have to. Well known soccer powers have established their identities or styles of play through years of tradition. For example, we knew coming into this World Cup that Italy will have a solid defense, Brazil will have flair, and Germany will be tactically and technically sound. But you’d be hard pressed to answer what the U.S. men’s team identity is.  

Before Klinsmann, other U.S. men’s managers had the same responsibilities to create a culture, establish a brand, and build that brand and style of soccer with players who represent it. Like ‘em or not, I’m not convinced they had the time to create what they thought was right for U.S. soccer. But America loves winners and we didn’t have the patience…so one by one they got axed for poor World Cup performance (okay, some deserved to be axed, but that’s another debate).

Brands takes time to build. If fact, it could possibly take every minute left on Jürgen Klinsmann’s contract. It’s not only the building of the brand that is challenging. It’s communicating that brand…engaging young players, coaches and fans…growing ambassadors and gaining grass root support…creating a groundswell.  

The win over Ghana provides Klinsmann a bit of breathing room to craft what he believes is right for the U.S. Soccer brand. So long after the 2014 World Cup champion is crowned, the real work begins – with Klinsmann as the architect.  

So I say in summation…I’m okay that John Brooks and not Landon Donovan scored as a sub. I’m okay if we don’t win the 2014 World Cup. And while I am cheering for the U.S. now and always, I am really looking forward to the next World Cup in 2018, even if just to see what the brand looks like.