Who’s who on the U.S.
Stalwarts like Landon Donovan give Team USA familiar faces, but there are 15 guys playing in their first World Cup.
The Associated Press
First question first: Can the United States win a game during this summer's World Cup?
In fact, the Americans should prevail in two of their three first-round matches. For their opening match, the Stars and Stripes won't be favored to win against England. Losing to Slovenia on June 18th and Algeria five days later will be more than a disappointment; it will be unacceptable for a side that wants to stake a claim as one of the world's top dozen teams.
Going one step further, the 2010 World Cup marks the first time the U.S. is predicted by many pundits to advance from its group. The top two finishers in each of the eight, four-team pairings move on to the knockout phase. The U.S. has only advanced from group play three times in World Cup history.
It's unlikely that in any of those cases Team USA was considered a favorite to advance. They've made every Cup since 1990, but they've tended to be in difficult groups and since they're still considered a developing soccer nation, not much has been expected. Elevated expectations are new for the Americans, but show the U.S.'s development as a soccer-playing nation.
"I don't even think getting to the second round is something that we should necessarily applaud," Alexi Lalas, a member of the 1994 and 1998 U.S. World Cup squad and ESPN commentator, told Goal.com earlier this year. "I think it's expected this time. I think if this team doesn't get out of this group, American soccer fans should be disappointed, and I would consider it a failure. That's a good situation to be in because not too long ago, people really didn't care. Now there are much higher expectations."
The growing faith in the U.S. squad stems from their recent successes.
At the Confederations Cup held in South Africa a year before the World Cup, the Americans defeated Spain en route to reaching their first-ever final of a FIFA tournament. Vincente del Bosque's La Furia Roja (The Red Fury) were on a world record 35-match unbeaten streak and held the world's No. 1 ranking. The U.S. defended as a cohesive unit, bending but never breaking, and counterattacked effectively in the 2-0 victory.
Though they would lose in the Confed Cup's last match to Brazil by a 3-2 scoreline, Bob Bradley's squad took a 2-0 lead into halftime. During the tournament, they proved to the world they can beat anyone on the right day.
The success in the Confederations Cup and World Cup qualifying — the U.S. finished first in their region — has fixed much of the damage done to the American reputation internationally from the poor showing during the 2006 World Cup.
In Germany, expectations for the team were high after their quarterfinal showing in the 2002 World Cup. The draw paired the U.S., ranked fifth in FIFA's World rankings, alongside Czech Republic (No. 2), Italy (No. 4), and Ghana (one of the strongest African sides) in the Group of Death. The Stars and Stripes failed to advance, losing to the Czechs and Ghana while tying eventual champions Italy.
That said, the showing in Germany wasn't as bad as some remember. While the Czech Republic dismantled the Americans, the U.S. was the only team the Azzurri didn't beat and the match against the African squad turned on a questionable penalty and a bad giveaway by captain Claudio Reyna, who injured himself on the play. A win against Ghana would have seen the U.S. advance. (Of course, that would have meant playing Brazil in the next round.)
In '02, Bruce Arena's team caught all the bounces and were hailed as conquering heroes; in '06, they didn't and were branded as failures. Soccer is a cruel mistress.
With Tim Howard, an English Premier League star, playing goalie, and Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit, and Carlos Bocanegra manning the backline, the squad boasts a formidable defense. All-time leading scorer Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, who's prone to moments of sheer genius, will carry the offensive load with assists from Michael Bradley (the coach's son), young Jozy Altidore, and a host of other developing talents.
The Americans will win a game in the first round. They should win two. They might even win three.
After that, who knows? Over the past year, the U.S. has proved they can beat every team in the world. The only question is, will they?
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