SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- National team manager Jurgen Klinsmann believes that the maturation of younger players has created a "good drive" in the United States camp, and an increased level of competition within the squad.
That's a big change from last summer, when, the U.S. suffered through a dismal fourth place showing at the CONCACAF Gold Cup. In that tournament, Klinsmann relied heavily on veteran players, though he did give heavy minutes to young center-backs John Brooks and Ventura Alvarado.
With the U.S. set to open the Copa America Centenario against Colombia on Friday, young players like defender DeAndre Yedlin, forward Bobby Wood, and 17-year-old midfielder Christian Pulisic have become key members of the squad. Brooks has also smoothed some of the rough edges in his game and is expected to start in the center of the U.S. defense.
"You see some youngsters now coming through, getting stronger, physically more developed," said Klinsmann.
"I think there's a lot more confidence in these younger players. I think the older guys, they know that. There are not many opportunities anymore like this Copa America, so they are fighting, and that's what you want.
"You want the established players to understand, 'Listen, if I'm not attentive now, somebody steals my spot.' It gives it a good drive right now in the camp, but a very respectful drive."
That new blood has the U.S. looking more balanced than it has at any time this World Cup cycle. A move to a 4-3-3 formation has also helped in this regard.
"The advantage of a 4-3-3 is it turns into a 4-5-1 defensively," said Klinsmann. "That makes us a little bit more compact, and easier then to press the ball again."
All of this has created a sense of optimism running through the U.S. camp.
"The want to show the soccer world that we are ready here to compete," said Klinsmann. "Obviously we want to do well, we want to get as far as we can in the tournament, but we want to showcase our game to the rest of the world because down the road we would like to host a World Cup again.
"It's a huge opportunity for all of us to show everybody outside the U.S. that we are ready to host another World Cup."