Five things to be thankful for in 2013 

November, 21, 2012

It's been a strange year for the U.S. team. The highs -- historic friendly wins in Italy and Mexico, a first-place group finish in the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying -- were balanced out by unconvincing performances against regional lightweights, leaving many fans still wondering what to make of Jurgen Klinsmann's team.

Still, it's hard to argue that 2012 wasn't a success for the Yanks.

They went 1-1-1 against the world's top-10 teams. They equaled their best annual winning percentage. And while that's probably not enough to completely satisfy a growing fan base with ever-increasing expectations -- realistic or otherwise -- even the most cynical U.S. supporters have to admit there are plenty of things to be thankful for heading into 2013.

Here are five of them:

Tim Howard

So much has changed for the national team since the 2010 World Cup. There's a new coach, a new high-pressure playing style and a new generation coming through the ranks. That makes the stability Howard provides crucial. Sometimes it can be easy to take the all-world keeper for granted.

Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has covered American and international soccer since 2002.