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Recent USA soccer success a step in the right direction

Don't dismiss USA men's wins in Europe as mere friendlies; they are significant victories that bode well for the squad.

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IF YOU WANT to be a cynic, you can look back at what the United States men's soccer team has done in Europe over the past week and diminish things by saying, "Oh, they were just friendlies."

True, a friendly is not the same as a World Cup match, but teams do not schedule friendlies just for the fun of it.

They always have a purpose and teams always want to win.

Keeping things in their proper context, the United States' 4-3 win over the Netherlands in Amsterdam last Friday and a 2-1 win over world champion Germany in Cologne on Wednesday are remarkable achievements, especially as the team prepares for the CONCACAF Gold Cup Tournament this summer, with the championship game at Lincoln Financial Field on July 26.

Team USA beat the Dutch for the first time ever and beat Germany in Germany for the first time. Friendlies or not, those are significant achievements coming at a crucial time.

"We should take confidence," USA captain Michael Bradley said. "It's the start of a big summer, an important summer.

"Really, it's the start of a few important years, with the Gold now, World Cup [2018] qualifying beginning in the fall. Copa America next summer, hopefully the Confederations Cup the following summer and then a World Cup.

"We should continue to feel like we're moving ourselves along. It doesn't matter who we play against. We can step on the field and cause anybody trouble and beat anybody."

When Jurgen Klinsmann took over the United States program in 2011, the goal was to take the USA to the next level in international soccer.

It has not been without controversy, and Klinsmann's approach and no holds barred personality have sometimes left him and his approach open to criticism.

Still, Klinsmann is 36-17-11 with Team USA. Under him, the United States has re-established itself as the top dog in CONCACAF by winning the 2013 Gold Cup and going 3-0-3 against archrival Mexico.

In the 2014 World Cup, the United States, matched up with Ghana, Portugal and Germany, surprisingly advanced out of the "Group of Death."

In international friendlies, Klinsmann's teams have had historic results. In 2012, the USA got it first victory over Italy, a 1-0 win in Genoa, where the Italians had won 20 consecutive matches. They also beat Mexico in Mexico for the first time - a span of 25 matches.

With a 2-1 loss in Denmark and a tie with Switzerland in Zurich, the United States is now 2-1-1 in Europe in 2015.

"This was an entertaining, little game with a good ending for us," Klinsmann said after the Germany win. "The way thing went in the second half, we thoroughly deserved to win.

"This success will bring more attention to football in America."

One of the major complaints about Klinsmann has been his willingness to separate himself from players who were part of America's most successful era of soccer.

The climax came when he left USA legend Landon Donovan off the 2014 World Cup roster in favor of younger players - some who had barely represented the United States.

From the start, Klinsmann said he was not tied to the past. He would search wherever to find more talent that was eligible to represent the United States.

Klinsmann won the 2013 Gold Cup with a roster that did not include such stalwarts as Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore and Tim Howard.

Against the Netherlands and Germany, four of the five players who scored for United States - Gyasi Zardes, John Brooks, Danny Williams, and Bobby Wood - had fewer than 15 caps when the team went to Europe.

Taking advantage of the United States' diverse culture, Klinsmann has convinced rising players with dual citizenship - such as Williams (Germany), Brooks (Germany), Ventura Alvarado (Mexico), Julian Green (Germany), Fabian Johnson (Germany), Joe Corona (Mexico, El Salvador), Alfredo Morales (Peru, Germany), Aron Johannsson (Iceland), Rubio Rubin (Mexico) and Gideon Zalelem (Ethiopia, Germany) - to tie their international careers to the United States.

However, this is not a total youth movement. The Gold Cup is on the immediate horizon and that is too important for the kind of experimentation Klinsmann would do in a friendly.

A USA victory in the Gold Cup secures a spot in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia, a year before the 2018 World Cup is played there.

If another nation wins, the USA and that country will have a playoff to determine who will represent CONCACAF at the Confederations Cup.

On Wednesday, United Soccer released the 35-man prelimary roster for the Gold Cup. It includes 16 players who are least 32 years old or have at least 30 international caps.

Several younger players who appear to be a clear part of the future are not included.

Klinsmann desperately wants the Gold Cup and recognizes that experimentation is best for friendlies.