The USA completed its first year under
new head coach Gregg Berhalter on Tuesday night with a 4-0 win over Cuba.
That followed 14 months under interim coach Dave Sarachan.
Time sure flies since Couva.
And a year from now, the USA will have played six of the 10 games in the 2020-21 Hexagonal, and we should have a very good idea if it will be going to Qatar.
Is the USA ready for the Hex?
In the last two years, the USA has played 29 games, and other than wins over "B" teams from Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica it has yet to beat a team that played in the 2018 World Cup.
The USA's performances have been far from convincing, but Berhalter won't have much more time to work with the team.
USA has only two more FIFA windows -- two friendlies in March and the Concacaf Nations League semifinals against Honduras and final or third-place game against Mexico or Costa Rica in June -- before the Hexagonal starts in September 2020. That's two windows earlier than when the Hexagonal started four years earlier.
There's been a lot of attention placed on Berhalter's player selections and the style of play he has tried to impose, but the USA's chances will likely depend on things beyond his control -- namely, the progress the young players in the U.S. pool make in Europe in the next year. That includes the club form of his current players and how others do in the Concacaf under-23 tournament in March and at the Tokyo Olympics next summer if they qualify.
The USA has a lot of ground to make up in terms of rebuilding the national team after having not qualified for the 2018 World Cup.
Lesson from 2002. Probably, the greatest catch-up a national team had to make in the modern era came in 2002 when Bruce Arena took the USA to the quarterfinals at the Japan/Korea World Cup four years after it finished last in France.
In getting through qualifying and into the finals, Arena's team had a veteran core of players who'd been around the program dating back to the Bora years, players like Brad Friedel, Jeff Agoos, Joe-Max Moore, Cobi Jones and Earnie Stewart, now U.S. Soccer's sporting director.
What the difference was for the USA in 2002 was the emergence of players like Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley, the Golden Ball and Silver Ball winners at the 1999 Under-17 World Cup, and John O'Brien and Tony Sanneh.
Donovan didn't play his first pro season until 2001 when he helped the San Jose Earthquakes win their first MLS title and didn't start on the national team until the last stages of the 2001 Hexagonal. Beasley came out of nowhere to win a starting spot on the 2002 World Cup team after a strong showing at the Gold Cup, played earlier in the year. In Korea, O'Brien and Sanneh were both coming off the best years of their careers at Ajax and Nuremberg, respectively.
Focus on youth. Berhalter lacks the veteran group that Arena relied up, often in supporting roles. No one who played against Canada and Cuba in the last two games ever started at the World Cup. (John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin were subs in 2014.)
That will put even greater attention on how young players on the national team do in the next year at their clubs.
For however concerning the USA's performance was against Canada in Toronto, the national team got good news in the month after that when Christian Pulisic broke through with a string of excellent matches for Chelsea, and 19-year-old Ajax right back Sergino Dest committed to the USA over the Netherlands, to the astonishment of many observers.
But the USA needs more players than just Pulisic and Dest performing at a high level in Europe. Josh Sargent is showing signs that he might be ready to be a consistent contributor at Werder Bremen. It needs Tyler Adams playing again at RB Leipzig, Tim Weah, the USA's top player in the 2019 U-20 World Cup, also returning from injury -- and breaking through -- at Lille. A successful European move by Aaron Long could be a lift.
The good news is that USA has quite a number of young prospects in Europe, far more than in 2001-02. The bad news it that they are young prospects, so too much shouldn't be expected of them in the next year or perhaps ever.
Still, the USA would get a big boost if one or more of the likes of Richie Ledezma, Alex Mendez and Uly Llanez from the 2019 U-20s or Gio Reyna from the U-17s break into their respective first teams in Europe. On their own, they might not be the difference in the upcoming World Cup qualifying campaign, but they'd give Berhalter more attacking weapons than he has now.