LONDON, England (CNN) -- The United States almost provided one of football's biggest upsets when they were narrowly beaten by Brazil in the final of the Confederations Cup in South Africa.
The U.S. players cut dejected figures after their Confederations Cup final defeat to Brazil
Goals from Clint Dempsey and captain Landon Donovan had given the U.S. a 2-0 lead at half-time, before Luis Fabiano struck twice after the break and Lucio headed home the winner six minutes before the final whistle to give Brazil the title.
While the presence of the U.S. in the final reflects the significant progress made since the country hosted the World Cup in 1994, it will undoubtedly raise expectation levels for the 2010 World Cup.
Central to this is whether the current crop of players in coach Bob Bradley's squad possess the credentials to make the next step and become serious challengers to the European and South American elite.
World Soccer magazine columnist and U.S. Soccer expert Paul Gardner felt that while the exploits of the national team were impressive, the country is still some way short of fulfilling their potential on the world stage.
"The way the tournament went it really opened up for the U.S. and certainly the progress made is there for all to see, particularly in the victory over Spain who had been on an good run up until that point," Gardner told CNN.
"Undoubtedly things have moved on a great deal since the World Cup was staged here in 1994, but if you look at the bigger picture there is perhaps a slight sense of underachievement because of the huge resources available.
"In terms of organization, facilities and sheer participation numbers the U.S. has massive potential which has not quite yet been matched by what has happened at national level."
Crucially Gardner believes that for the U.S. to shake the tag of nearly men there must be a stronger emphasis placed on tapping into the abundance of talent provided within the country's Hispanic population.
"The experience that players have gained from playing in Europe has improved the players and Bob Bradley has molded a side which can hold it's own against some of the bigger nations," Gardner explained.
"But for the U.S. to become a real force then it must begin to tap into the quality of talent available in the Hispanic community which can be nurtured to take the game to the next level.
"The Major Soccer League has yet to really embrace this idea and I think that needs to change in the first instance to enable the development of players capable of winning matches at the very top.
"MLS side Houston Dynamo is a case in point. Something like 50 percent of their support is Hispanic, 90 percent of their youth talent is Hispanic but have only have a few Hispanic players in the team.
"And that extends to the national team. The composition of the side at the moment is very much the team that Bob Bradley and Bruce Arena built and they -- like a number of MLS coaches -- have gone for players they can trust and rely on.
"The Hispanic players have the game in their blood and their skill and technical levels need to be embraced rather than maybe having a dependence on players who fit a specific system."
For Gardner, at least, it seems that development of the Hispanic talent must therefore become a keystone policy for the U.S. Soccer Federation to put them into the bracket of serious World Cup contenders in years to come.
But what of their chances at next year's World Cup in South Africa?
He added: "The U.S. should not get carried way with their performance at the Confederations Cup and the players should not look beyond getting past the group stages in South Africa.
"A good run in Japan and South Korea in 2002 was followed by elimination before the knockout phase in Germany 2006 so they need to be cautious.
"Winning the World Cup will probably be beyond the U.S. next year. Bradley will make them a difficult team to beat, and I don't think anyone will get an easy game against them so it will be interesting to see how they do."
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