The feeling around the U.S. men's national team these days is just different.
Only six months ago, uncertainty clouded the team at every level. It was small questions, like what tactical system the team would use or who would be starting matches. It was also big questions, like whether the team would even qualify for the World Cup or if U.S. Soccer still had faith in manager Jurgen Klinsmann.
But things have quickly and sharply shifted since Bruce Arena took over the team and started getting results. If the surest sign of that is eight points in four World Cup qualifying matches with Arena at the helm, then the next surest sign comes from the way U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati is talking about Arena.
"We haven't lost yet this year since Bruce has had the team," Gulati said after Sunday's 1-1 draw in Mexico. "So whatever has gotten us there, whatever occasion or bonding that's led to a change, that's a positive, and certainly Bruce has to receive a lot of credit."
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Gulati's praise of Arena is in stark contrast to the final year of Klinsmann's time in charge of the national team. Then, Gulati's constant and unequivocal support for Klinsmann changed to the need for constant evaluation of progress, and even his compliments were often couched.
After Copa America last summer, a tournament that was a moderate success for the USMNT on paper, Gulati expressed subtle alarm at the state of the team, raising doubts about Klinsmann's future in the process. His faith in Klinsmann appeared to be waning, even if he never directly said it.
"Today is a good day to judge where we are in the program overall as a team," Gulati said after the USMNT was thrashed by then-No. 1-ranked Argentina in the semifinals. "We're obviously a long way off."
After the tournament, where the USMNT placed in a respectable fourth place, Gulati offered only the faintest of praise: "We didn't lose to anybody in the tournament that's ranked outside the top five in the world, but we need to win some of those games, obviously."
Arena's approach in managing the USMNT, buoyed by a track record of eight points in four World Cup qualifying matches, tends to illicit comparisons to his predecessor.
But Gulati, for his part, resisted being drawn into comparisons between Arena and Klinsmann, even as he acknowledged the team looks more confident now.
"I'm not going to compare the current situation to any previous situations. I don't think that is appropriate," Gulati said in Mexico on Sunday. "But I think that clearly the team has responded to some of the things that Bruce has outlined and is doing, and that's what we were hoping for. I think it's probably a lot of little things and not any one thing.
"Obviously when you're on the field and in camp and the team starts to believe even before they've played a game that they're capable of playing better and of winning, that helps. And then when you go out and see results that come from that, from following the path he's laid out, that obviously gives people a lot of confidence not only in Bruce but in themselves and in the team."
Of course, Gulati doesn't need to make the comparisons or say anything about Klinsmann.
The players have looked comfortable and, after Sunday's match, they've confirmed it, praising Arena's plan to let players know weeks in advance what the team would be doing in Mexico. Arena made a formation change and brought in seven new players for Sunday's match at the Azteca, and while the lineup certainly surprised fans and pundits, the players were well-prepared for it.
"I've had three weeks to prepare for this game," Omar Gonzalez said after Sunday's draw in Mexico. "It's just a different environment, and a different mentality you can take when you know three weeks out when you're going to play, how you're going to prepare.
"Sometimes with Jurgen you wouldn't know until the day of the game," Gonzalez added. "It's just stressful, so with Bruce here taking that kind of approach here, it's been helping out a lot."
Whether Gulati is or isn't referring to what the players are saying, it doesn't matter – it's pretty evident on the field.
Copyright The Associated Press.
Now, from the player pool all the way to the top of U.S. Soccer, qualifying for a World Cup looks like a much more reasonable expectation than it did six months ago, when Klinsmann lost the first two matches of the Hex.
"Clearly 16 points, except in very, very unusual situations, will get us one of the automatic spots," Gulati said, referring to how many points were enough to qualify in previous cycles. "I think it's quite possible we could win some of the away games."
That's a huge vote of confidence. Winning on the road in CONCACAF is never an easy endeavor and under Klinsmann, even winning at home became a concern.
Expectations around the USMNT have changed and so has the way U.S. Soccer's head talks about the team.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)