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2010 World Cup Preview Group C: United States

Country: The United States
Nickname: The Yanks
Rankings: 14 (FIFA), 15 (SPI)
Elite Players: Tim Howard
Key Players: Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Jonathan Spector
History: Semifinals (1930) Quarterfinals (2002) Qualified (1934, 1950, 1990-1998, 2006)
Odds to Win: 80-1

“Untutored courage is useless, in the face of educated bullets.” – General George S. Patton

Project 2010. U.S. Soccer wanted to compete for a World Cup by 2010. The project was ambitious, but it never left the think tank. Carlos Quieroz compiled the Q-report in 1998 suggesting the U.S. replicate the European academy system with an U-19 league, closing the professionalism gap. MLS no longer has even a reserve league. A parade of talented young Americans has gone to Europe and, nearly to a man, struggled to adjust. The U.S. Soccer infrastructure is more stable than it was 12 years ago, but has the ceiling been raised?

Summer of Love: The Confederations Cup showed what is possible from the U.S. team. It also showed what is probable. A poised U.S. beat the European champions 2-0 and held a 2-0 lead over Brazil at halftime. An outclassed U.S. lost 3-1 to Italy, lost 3-0 to Brazil in the group and gave up three goals (should have been four) in the second half to Brazil in the final. The Spain result and first half against Brazil showed American potential, but the senior team had a 3-5 record that summer. They went 1-5 against Brazil, Italy, Spain and Mexico and were outscored 13-1 in the second half. That’s not a renaissance.

What About Bob: Bob Bradley polarizes people. He’s portrayed as horrible or brilliant. He’s neither. He’s knowledgeable. He was successful at the collegiate and MLS level. He has been effective during qualifying and has been competitive in tournaments. For a domestic coach willing to make six figures, he is probably the best option. Bradley is competent, but he has limitations. His tactical adjustments against good opposition have been unconvincing. That 13-1 figure in the second-half from last summer is disturbing. He’s trustworthy in fair weather, but has yet to prove himself in a naval battle during a storm.  Love that he has the piercing stare of a Bond villain, but wish he would ditch the tracksuit for a tailored one.

Tactics: The U.S. should resemble England – direct, flat 4-4-2, big guy/speed combo up front, creativity from the wings with two primarily holding midfielders – just not as good of a version. The major difference, besides Rooney, is the defenders. England has Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson who are quick, athletic and cover ground. The U.S. does not. The American defenders are slow, which forces the U.S. to play two defensive midfielders. Even then, U.S. defenders are often caught out. FIFA refs may not be as forgiving with poor tackling as CONCACAF ones.

Because of the two defensive midfielders (and poor technique throughout the squad), the U.S. does not hold the ball. They also don’t pressure the opposing midfield well to get the ball back. It’s like trying to win a football game, while losing the line of scrimmage and both sides of the ball. It can be done. But the U.S. needs to score on counterattacks and set pieces. They must be focused, disciplined and not allow stupid goals. They’ve done well with the former, but the latter remains an issue.

Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan have matured greatly as professionals this season.  This team goes as far as those two will carry them.

Squad: Let’s start with the sure things. Howard will be the starting goalkeeper. Jonathan Spector will start at right back. Michael Bradley will be one of the central midfield pair. Jozy Altidore will lead the line up front. With so much instability due to injuries, I think Bradley opts for consistency.  It should be similar to the squads seen last summer and fall.

If Onyewu is fit, he and DeMerit would be first-choice in the center with Bocanegra at left back. This sacrifices some versatility going forward, but the other credible option, Jonathan Bornstein, looked abysmal against the Netherlands. He was flailing. The Dutch wingers’ abuse of him bordered on sadism. Bocanegra will struggle with quicker players as well, but he’s more experienced and positionally sound.

How Bradley slots the front six will depend on how he replaces Charlie Davies. Ching, Casey, Findley have not distinguished themselves. Edson Buddle would do well just to make the squad. Ideally, Stuart Holden recovers to play on the right, and Bradley pushes Dempsey forward. If Holden can’t go, You may see Donovan more advanced with Beasley inserted on the left.

That leaves central midfield. Edu may be the best choice. He’s the most versatile. He can go box to box. He’s been in solid form for Rangers. Ricardo Clark has only played two matches since January. Jermaine Jones has missed the entire season with a leg injury. Torres is not as strong defensively and was errant with his passing against the Netherlands, causing him to be taken off after 45 minutes.

Conclusion: The U.S. got one of the easiest possible draws, but that does not mean it will be easy. They are a fairly clear second favorite from the group on paper, but playing England first could harm their chances. If they lose to England, which is likely, they have added pressure to get a result in the other two games. Slovenia could easily hold out with the U.S. for a draw. The Americans would then have a must-win final match with Algeria, who have played well in big games.

How far the U.S. could go beyond the group depends on if the finish first or second. If they win the group, they get into the easy bracket. They could face Australia/Serbia in the Round of 16 and Mexico/France in the quarterfinals. If they finish second, they probably play Germany and go down easily.

Random Fact: Harry S. Truman’s middle name did not stand for anything.  His middle name was “S.”

Group A: South Africa, Mexico, Uruguay, France
Group B: Argentina, Nigeria, South Korea, Greece
Group C: England, United States, Algeria, Slovenia
Group D: Germany, Australia, Serbia, Ghana
Group E: Netherlands, Denmark, Japan, Cameroon
Group F: Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia
Group G: Brazil, North Korea, Ivory Coast, Portugal
Group H: Spain, Switzerland, Honduras, Chile

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