As difficult as it might be for proud American motocross fans to admit, the playing field in the world’s toughest motorsport is more even than it’s ever been. Gone are the days where U.S.-based riders, regardless of what country they hailed from, were hands down the most talented racers on the planet. For years it was almost a given that the Team USA squad each year at the Monster Energy FIM Motocross of Nations (MXoN) was going to be the team to beat during the annual spectacle. Now, the discussion has evolved into whether or not the Americans can even challenge for the podium, let alone the win.
While the discussion surrounding the U.S. success at the Monster Energy MXoN deepens with each and every loss – a winless streak that now sits at seven years – it’s important to recognize that the Europeans have simply gotten better. The dominant seven-year win streak Team USA amassed from 2006 to 2011, and the record 22 victories the U.S. holds at the MXoN, have led to a heightened sense of ego amongst Americans, and rightfully so. After all, this singular event is contested for the sole purpose of determining which country is the best in the sport of motocross, and given that the two most prominent championship series are contested on U.S. soil, it’s completely logical to believe that the standard for motocross begins and ends in America.
Unfortunately, when things start to change, that heightened sense of ego makes it harder to admit that perhaps, just maybe, the U.S. isn’t the most dominant force in motocross anymore. Instead, some will go to great lengths to make excuses for Team USA’s recent lack of success. Even the most desperate will go as far as suggesting there’s a conspiracy to suppress the talent of all U.S.-based riders. When you’re as good as Team USA has been, it’s difficult to comprehend why things have changed, particularly given how quickly and dramatically that change occurred and still persists.
The simple answer, as challenging as it might be for some American fans to admit, is that the Europeans have upped their game. It’s no longer just Antonio Cairoli carrying the load for an entire continent. We no longer see every budding international talent doing whatever it takes to make their way to the U.S. to race in Monster Energy Supercross and the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship. MXGP has matured, and frankly, given the amount of homegrown talent we have here in American competing for scarce spots on a factory team, it just makes more sense for European, British, and even Australian riders to accept one of the many rides available in the FIM series.
The end result of this cultural shift on the global scale of motocross racing is a more competitive disparity when everyone comes together each year for the lone intercontinental showcase at the Monster Energy MXoN. On top of that, the demands on U.S.-based racers have become something that many of the top riders and teams are exceptionally conscious of. Whether you agree with that or not, it is the reality. Championships are the priority. Everything else is up for debate.
From the moment they arrive at Anaheim 1 until the checkered flag falls on the final moto at Ironman Raceway, U.S. riders compete for a combined total of 29 races over the course of just 34 weeks, leaving a total of just five off weekends from January through August. Comparatively, the MXGP schedule features 20 races over the span of 29 weeks from March through September. In both instances, riders also spend considerable amount of additional seat time testing and training, whether it’s to improve their physical abilities or refine the performance of the bike.
That provides a tremendous disparity amongst U.S.-based racers and their European counterparts, and it certainly doesn’t hurt the international contingent to have the Monster Energy MXoN take place just one week after their final race of the season. Because of this, we’ve seen wavering commitments by American riders, or their teams, to compete for Team USA. The same can be said for international riders who compete in the U.S. full time electing to not represent their home country as well. When all the elite stars of the MXGP seemingly show up for their respective countries at the Monster Energy MXoN, it’s not surprising to hear outcry from American fans about the perception they’ve developed towards U.S. riders, nor is it a shock to hear rumblings from European riders suggesting that Team USA is perhaps intimidated.
Lost in all this commentary, and the overwhelming attention that tends to come with who isn’t on Team USA, is the fact that this year’s three-rider lineup is still incredibly stacked with talent. While Eli Tomac, Cooper Webb, and Adam Cianciarulo – the three national titleholders from the 2019 season – will not make the trip to the Netherlands this weekend, in their place is Jason Anderson, Zach Osborne, and Monster Energy athlete Justin Cooper. This trio will carry the stars and stripes into TT Circuit Assen on this final weekend in September in search of redemption for a U.S. squad that appears to have lost its way a bit, and could really benefit from showing some competitiveness.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Anderson was seen hoisting the Monster Energy Supercross trophy as World Champion at the end of the 2018 season. The same could be said for Osborne, who secured the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross 250 Class Championship in 2017. In addition to their championship pedigree, Anderson and Osborne also have past experience at the Monster Energy MXoN, while Osborne carries even more familiarity with the MXGP circuit, having competed overseas during the early portion of his pro career. These two Factory Husqvarna-mounted teammates are some of the most gifted riders on the planet, and they provide Team USA with a stout 1-2 punch to take on their European counterparts, with Anderson leading the way in the MXGP class and Osborne tackling the Open class.
Complementing this powerhouse 450cc-mounted pair is arguably the most promising young American talent, Cooper, in the MX2 class. While he wasn’t heavily regarded as an amateur, Cooper has done nothing but turn heads since going pro. He has all the tools to become a champion, and most agree that he’s on the cusp of being the 250cc rider to beat riding for Monster Energy/Star/Yamaha Racing. While this will signify his first trip to the Monster Energy MXoN, he’s been gifted arguably the two best mentors he could ask for given the stakes of this weekend’s race. It also doesn’t hurt that absolutely nothing seems to faze Cooper’s focus and determination, no matter how big or small the moment. He’s as cool, calm, and collected as they come.
In fact, those adjectives could be used to define the entire U.S. lineup for this year’s Monster Energy MXoN, and it’s the perfect way to approach the chase for the Chamberlain Trophy. Anderson’s laid back attitude, Osborne’s even keel demeanor, and Cooper’s lack of intimidation combine to make a sneaky strong lineup that is probably a little underestimated given the fact that the 2019 Monster Energy MXoN will take place on a sand track, the perceived greatest weakness of all U.S. riders.
The downfall of the U.S.’ most recent reign of dominance at the Monster Energy MXoN began in the sands of Lommel back in 2012. Admittedly, there is virtually no motocross track on American soil that can compare to the never-ending depths of sand that define the European equivalents, but rather than sit idly and go into Assen unprepared for what lies ahead, Anderson, Osborne and Cooper took matters into their own hands and flew overseas early.
A mere week after the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship wrapped up, both Anderson and Osborne were on a plane to the Netherlands. Their goal? To get as prepared as possible for Team USA’s quest for victory No. 23 by riding on the toughest sand tracks Europe has to offer. Cooper joined them a week later, and together these three riders are pulling out all the stops to silence the critics and rejuvenate American fans’ hopes at the Monster Energy MXoN.
Despite all the perceived frustration that has made some noise around Team USA, Anderson, Osborne, and Cooper have chosen to rally around one another, take this race as serious as any other, and come into Assen as prepared, if not more prepared, than any other country on the gate. It’s become one of the most unexpectedly optimistic storylines surrounding this year’s Monster Energy MXoN, and it’s also provided definitive proof that the depth of talent amongst U.S. riders is unparalleled in the world of motocross. No other country can come close to fielding what many consider to be a lineup of “second choice” riders that posses the kind of accolades this threesome does, who also collectively bring an equal level of talent to the country’s “first choice” riders. All three of these riders can and have beaten their counterparts that passed on the opportunity, and can easily be considered on equal footing when it comes to talent. It’s almost unfair to Anderson, Osborne, and Cooper that even the slightest averse reaction has been put out there about the U.S. efforts at the MXoN. In spite of that, each rider is well aware that it’s not personal, and they’ve taken it in stride, instead using it as motivation to show that the U.S. is still the country to beat in the sport of motocross.
It’s hard to say that any U.S. squad at the Monster Energy MXoN is overlooked, but given everything that has surrounded this year’s event you could argue that’s exactly what’s happening for Team USA this time around. These three riders are more than happy to fly under the radar and embrace their underdog role, and they’ll be eager to try and shock the world on Sunday afternoon.