(Over the next month or so, we’re going to be doing previews for all 32 teams participating in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Yes, all 32 teams. We’ll make you laugh, cry, get mad and perhaps question why you read us in the first place. We hope you enjoy the product nonetheless)
The United States of America: the Landon of the Donovan and the home of the brave.
Wait, that’s not right.
The United States of America: the land of the free and the home of the bravextratimelosstoGhana.
There is no shortage of storylines when it comes to the USMNT. How much has Jürgen Klinsmann changed the American team ahead of his first World Cup in charge? Will Landon Donovan’s omission come back to haunt him? Will the U.S. team lose to Ghana again? Will it even finish second in Group G?! Squad and analysis next.
Goalkeepers: Tim Howard (Everton), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Defenders: DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Matt Besler (Sporting KC), John Brooks (Hertha BSC), DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timothy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
Midfielders: Michael Bradley (Toronto), Mikkel Diskerud (Rosenborg), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Jermaine Jones (Beşiktaş), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Graham Zusi (Sporting KC)
Forwards: Clint Dempsey (captain, Seattle Sounders), Aron Jóhansson (AZ Alkmaar), Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
Manager: Jürgen Klinsmann
2010 refresher: The U.S. won Group C on the final matchday in 2010, besting England, Slovenia, and Algeria for their first group triumph in 80 years. In the round of 16, however, the Americans were stunned by Ghana. Asamoah Gyan’s goal three minutes into extra time ended the United States’ four-game run in South Africa.
Goalkeepers: Tim Howard’s the #1. This should not shock anyone. Brad Guzan is a pretty good #2. But much like the Barclays Premier League table, the Villan will not surpass the Evertonian.
Defenders: Some questions here. DaMarcus Beasley is still around, but he’s 32 now. For the most part, the United States back line is an exercise in easing in the future. Players like 2012 MLS Defender of the Year Matt Besler, German-born Fabian Johnson, and the extremely versatile Geoff Cameron (assuming he starts over Omar Gonzalez) are participating in their first World Cup, and if they’re up to the task, the USMNT back four could surprise (read: get a result against Germany).
Midfielders: There’s some talent here. In fact, the midfield is the Yanks’ greatest strength. The former Roma man Bradley is the cornerstone. He’s been excellent since arriving in Toronto, averaging better than four long balls and three key passes per contest. On defence, the 26 year-old has averaged 3.3 tackles and 2.8 interceptions from the midfield. In 11 appearances for Roma, he averaged 38 passes per game with a 92% success rate.
Graham Zusi is another key player in the United States midfield. Zusi is the wizard of the KC midfield (heh), and if there’s a pass that you want made, chances are he’ll make it. Averaging 37 passes per game this MLS season, he has a 75.2% pass success rate with three assists, 3.3 crosses, three key passes, and two long balls per game. He could be very important to Jozy Altidore in particular (more on him later).
In the same vein as Zusi, Brad Davis is a pass-first attacking mid; he attempts 28.8 passes per game in Houston, completing them at an 84% clip. The 32 year-old Missouri native has five assists to his name over eight league appearances, with three key passes, three crosses, and one long ball per game to boot.
Now, although he likely will not decide the USMNT’s fate, I’d be remiss in my duties if I didn’t at least mention Julian Green. The 19 year-old scored 15 goals and assisted on a further eight in 23 appearances for Bayern Munich II, and even made a Champions League appearance for the big club. The Tampa-born winger could have chosen to represent Germany, but instead elected to commit to #murica. Huge coup for Klinsmann. Again, he may not play a big role in this year’s World Cup, but we’re going to hear even more about him before long, especially if Bayern decide to call him up in the next year or two.
Forwards: Any United States forward discussion begins and ends with Clint Dempsey. Only Beasley has more caps on this squad than Dempsey, and only Donovan has scored more goals all-time while representing the United States. The former Fulham sniper has eight goals in nine appearances with Seattle this season, and since Donovan was left off, he is now “the man”.
Jozy Altidore is not “the man”, yet he is arguably the most critical component of this U.S. team. If he resembles his Sunderland self in Brazil (invisible, lifeless, pick your favorite related adjective), he adds nothing, and his disappearance would require Aron Jóhansson and Chris Wondolowski (both capable players, but both appearing in their first World Cup), to pick up the slack. However, what may prove advantageous to Altidore is the fact that he’ll have a much better midfield than the one he had at Sunderland this past term. Also potentially working in his favor is a change in tactics (more on that below) If he takes advantage of these two things, his presence could be a big boost for the United States.
Manager: Jürgen Klinsmann is changing things up.
Gone is the 4-2-3-1 that we had grown used to seeing the United States play throughout World Cup qualifying. Against Azerbaijan nearly three weeks ago, Klinsmann organized his troops into a 4-4-2 diamond, also known as a 4-1-2-1-2. In the 4-4-2 diamond, the holding mid and attacking mid are separated by two wingers who can close in on the centre of the pitch to fill any gaps that may exist. Milan used this formation about ten years ago under Carlo Ancelotti, and it won them a Champions League. The 4-4-2 diamond is a very flexible formation and is designed to attack, and while any abrupt tactical change prior to a competition such as the World Cup is risky, this formation may actually suit the USA better. But if it doesn’t (there’s a chance it exposes the defence), Klinsmann will get blasted for it.
Here’s what the formation looked like in action against Azerbaijan (courtesy of USA Today):
Anyway, while we’re on the subject of blasting Klinsmann, can we drop the faux outrage over his “we can’t win the World Cup” comments, please? Managers in Europe are defeatist like this all the time (see Gerardo Martino and José Mourinho from this past La Liga season and this past Premier League season, respectively). Even Germany, one of the favorites to win this competition, are tempering expectations. The U.S. have made progress since 2006, but there is still work to be done. Klinsmann is simply being realistic. Temper your expectations and get over it. This means you, Boston Globe.
Outlook: Wow, what a segue. This is a tough one, but I’m going to say that the U.S. will fall just short of knockout stage qualification. Germany and Portugal have fitness concerns, but both squads have more pure talent than the United States. And I’m willing to bet that Cristiano was screwing with everyone by leaving training early on Thursday. However, not all is lost; the U.S. will beat Ghana this year!