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2014 World Cup Team Preview: United States

Jun 5, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT

Getting to know… United States

The U.S.’s appearance in the semifinals of the first World Cup (1930) was a high point, but at the time, it wasn’t necessarily an isolated success. Counting the Olympics, a tournament that was considered a world championship at the time, the U.S. qualified for all five major competitions from 1924 to 1936. It wasn’t until the 1938 World Cup, when the U.S. withdrew from qualifying for financial reasons, that the Americans finally missed out on a big tournament.

Unfortunately, that absence became a pattern. Though the U.S. qualified when the World Cup resumed in 1950 (famously defeating England in Brazil), the team would miss the next nine tournaments. It wasn’t until Paul Caligiuri’s Shot Heard Round the World found the net at Port of Spain in 1989 that the U.S. returned to the international stage:

Starting with Italy 1990, the U.S. has taken part in six straight World Cups.

Brazil represents number seven, with the team finishing first in CONCACAF qualifying to get there. Over the past 24 years, the team has gone 4-13-5 at finals, advanced to three knockout rounds, and scored 20 times (while conceding 35).

Record in qualifying

With a 7-2-1 record in CONCACAF’s final round, the U.S. established itself as the clear leaders in its region, doubling the points of rival Mexico. Defeating El Tri 2-0 in Columbus on Sept. 10, 2013, the team booked its place in Brazil with two games to spare.

The U.S.’s final point total in “The Hex” (22) was the second-highest for any team since CONCACAF started using its six-term, round robin format in 1998. It was also two points more than the U.S. accumulated in 2010.

What group are they in? 

The Group of Death moniker has become an empty cliché, but that doesn’t make the U.S.’s task any easier. The team should be considered slight favorites to beat Ghana, but it will be underdogs against both Portugal (FIFA’s third-ranked team) and Germany (ranked number two). If there is an early pecking order in Group G, the U.S. is number three.

Game schedule:

16 June, 18:00, Natal – Ghana vs. United States

22 June, 17:00, Manaus – United States vs. Portugal

26 June, 12:00, Recife – United States vs. Germany

Star player: Michael Bradley

Five years ago, as a still emerging midfielder playing under his father, fans used to see the current Toronto FC star as the beneficiary of nepotism. Seriously. As ridiculous as that sounds now – as ridiculous as that sounded at the time, to those around the team – fans wondered if the then-Borussia Möchengladbach player was an attacking talent being wedged into a defensive role. And the only possible explanation for that? Father Bob was intent on putting his son in the team.

One year later, Bradley was the U.S.’s best player at the 2010 World Cup. Now the central midfielder, who has settled into a box-to-box presence for both club and country, is unquestionably the team’s most important player. With a midfield built around Bradley’s high tempo, all-around talents, the U.S. will lean on the one-time object of derision in Brazil. On the few occasions the U.S. has had to play without him, the team looks like hollow.

Manager: Jurgen Klinsmann

A world champion as a player, Klinsmann became a hot commodity as a coach when he reshaped Germany ahead of the Nationalmannschaft’s 2006 semifinal appearance. The benefits of the youth movement he accelerated are still being felt in one of 2014’s favorites.

A brief spell at Bayern Munich dimmed that star, yet after the U.S. was beaten decisively by Mexico at the 2011 Gold Cup, federation president Sunil Gulati brought in Klinsmann to rebuild the national team. Dramatically expanding the player pool and changing the team’s style amid his long-term project, the 49-year-old Californian takes his rebuilding team into Brazil as reigning Gold Cup champions and decisive winners of CONCACAF’s qualifying tournament.

Secret weapon: Fabian Johnson

If fitness, speed, strength are going to be decisive in Brazil, then the U.S.’s versatile Gladbach wideman could be one of its most valuable weapons. Able to play midfield or defense, on the left or right, Johnson’s speed leaves him capable of patrolling goal-line to goal-line, something that will liberate the likes of Graham Zusi to pinch in and augment the U.S.’s two-man midfield. Expected to start at right back, his strength and fitness will be tested against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Marco Reus, giving the U.S. a high-level European talent to matchup with their opponent’s high-level European stars.

Prediction: Third place is the fair pick, but the U.S. could finish anywhere from second to fourth in Group G. The key will be an opening match win over Ghana – a team that’s beaten the U.S. at the last two World Cups. With three points against the Black Stars, the U.S. creates a near win-and-in opportunity against Portugal.

  1. lyleoross - Jun 5, 2014 at 4:48 PM

    Sorry, even if GOD is a cliche, in this case it has real meaning. Name one other group that has the number 2 and 3 ranked teams in this WC? :) There may be another tough group, but nothing that looks like ours.

    That said, them’s the breaks. Even if you concede that we won’t advance, you should go in with a plan to pull out as much credibility as possible. Get as many goals as you can and take your chances.

    • tridecagon - Jun 5, 2014 at 5:09 PM

      We’re playing against the world’s best team, the world’s best (maybe second best) player, and the team that’s knocked us out of the past two WCs. It really is like something out of a horror movie.

      But hey, we’re Americans. We do the underdog thing well.

      • lyleoross - Jun 5, 2014 at 5:19 PM

        Exactly!

    • mikeevergreen - Jun 5, 2014 at 8:19 PM

      We have the upper hand in my view. Germany is as deep as the Mariana trench, but they have enough guys banged up to the point that they may be putting out a lineup similar to the one they put up in RFK a year ago. That was 4-3 US, but that was only because Germany got two very late goals. Functionally it was 4-1.

      Portugal only has one injury, but it’s a big one, CR7. They’ve played without him, and it looks like they don’t win without him. Ghana is healthy, but doesn’t look like they’re in much of a good form.

      If we beat Nigeria this weekend, I’d say we’ll finish second in the group.

      • lyleoross - Jun 6, 2014 at 10:44 AM

        While the things you are saying are true, unless our defense takes a significant step forward Saturday, I don’t think that Portugal will need CR, and I think that Germany will still beat us. I admit, the front looked sharper against Turkey, but both these squads have much better defenses than Turkey does and I can’t see the same number of opportunities happening. On the other hand, I most fervently hope you are correct.

  2. sa371916 - Jun 5, 2014 at 5:06 PM

    Yeah, I think Group B has a tougher top 3, (group D probably does as well), but no group has four at the level of this group. I am still feeling W, D, L, 4 point and a goal differential advance out of the GOD!

  3. peer161 - Jun 5, 2014 at 6:16 PM

    What if the US shock the world and get out of the group stage? Will people call it “miracle on grass”? lol

    I believe that the US will not only get out of group stage but also advance to the quarter-finals. Portugal can’t handle the pressure (see 2002 WC against USMT), and the German national team is getting desperate with the WC approaching (see last week’s Germany vs Nigeria).

    Seriously, I see the USMT going far! The US greatnes is reflected on this team.

    Welcome to the World Cup, btw. Just 6 days.
    CAN’T F… WAIT!

  4. el timo - Jun 5, 2014 at 7:25 PM

    Beat Ghana with speed on the counter (which they thought they’d beat us with.) Beat Portugal with finesse and Cristiano-esque finishing (ditto.) Then beat up the Germans with, you guessed it, physical domination. You may be laughing now, but you won’t be when it’s done.

    • mikeevergreen - Jun 5, 2014 at 8:24 PM

      1.) Dicey, as Ghana doesn’t have to get all the way in on you to score. Counters limited unless FJ is playing up and Beasley back. 2.) If CR isn’t 100%, you don’t BEAT Portugal, you MASSACRE them. 3.) Germany, you spook their goalie. Oops! Ter Stegen didn’t make their roster. Darn!

  5. peer161 - Jun 5, 2014 at 7:52 PM

    Call me crazy, but I see the US advancing to the quarter-finals.

  6. ajonesmc931 - Jun 6, 2014 at 12:49 AM

    @peer ur not crazy

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