U.S. in fight for respect at World Cup

Michael Bradley of the United States. (Michael Chow/AP)

Having supplanted Mexico as the “Kings of CONCACAF,” the United States heads to Brazil in hopes of finally breaking through and making their mark on the game’s biggest stage. Their best showing in the modern era of the World Cup came in 2002 when they reached the quarterfinals. Since then, early exits have been the order of the day. Can they end the cycle of disappointment and reach the semifinals?


Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Nurnberg), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders)
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Jermaine Jones (Besiktas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)


A former World Cup hero for Germany during his playing days, Jurgen Klinsmann took over the coaching reins in 2011 and guided the Americans to a CONCACAF Gold Cup title two years later. He coached Germany at the 2006 World Cup, reaching the semifinals.

Possible formation

4-4-2: (GK) Howard – (D) Cameron, Gonzalez, Besler, Beasley – (M) Zusi, Jones, Diskerlud, Bradley – (F) Dempsey, Altidore

Group G schedule

June 16: vs. Ghana in Natal
June 22: vs. Portugal in Manaus
June 26: vs. Germany in Recife

How they qualified

While their opening round was a cake-walk, the Americans got off to an uncomfortably slow start in the final stage of CONCACAF qualifying, only scrapping four points from their first three games. But an epic run of 12 games unbeaten in 2013—which included several friendlies, a Gold Cup title and several qualifiers—pushed the U.S. to the top of the table.

Team strengths

Goalkeeping is an area of depth for the Americans, with Tim Howard backed up by Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando. Central midfield is another strong point: Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman. Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore form a dangerous 1-2 scoring punch up front.

Team weaknesses

In a word, defence. The back line lacks depth and overall quality. The team also doesn’t have a firm tactical identity—Klinsmann can’t seem to decide between a high-pressure or counter-attacking style. Midfielder Jermaine Jones can be a defensive liability at times.

Players to watch

Michael Bradley: The Toronto FC star is an influential two-way midfielder who offers the U.S. defensive security and creativity when launching forward in attack.
Clint Dempsey: With no Landon Donovan, the U.S. captain and former Spurs striker will have even more pressure on him to score and create.
Tim Howard: One of the top goalkeepers in the Premier League, the Everton star will have to be at his best, especially with questions surrounding the defence.

Burning question?

Do they have a chance without Landon Donovan? Klinsmann made the bold decision of omitting Donovan—a veteran of three World Cups and the team’s all-time leading scorer. Donovan has been integral to the U.S. side for over a decade, so it’ll be interesting to see how they cope without him.

Prospects in Brazil

Not good. It’s not that the United States aren’t talented. They are, and with more players plying their trade at top clubs across Europe, they’d be a dangerous proposition under normal circumstances. But it’s hard to see them advancing from a difficult group that includes Germany (one of the favourites), Portugal (who have Cristiano Ronaldo) and Ghana (one of Africa’s best teams). A win in their opening game against Ghana is a must.

World Cup history

The United States finished third at the first World Cup in 1930 in Uruguay, and then pulled off the greatest upset in tournament history when it beat mighty England in 1950 in Brazil. A 40-year absence followed, but the Americans returned in 1990, and have qualified for every tournament since. They’ve hit the glass ceiling, though, and need to reach the semifinals to really earn the respect of the soccer world.

• 1930—Semifinals (third)
• 1934—First round
• 1938—Did not enter
• 1950—First round
• 1954 to 1986—Did not qualify
• 1990—First round
• 1994—Second round
• 1998—First round
• 2002—Quarterfinals
• 2006—First round
• 2010—Second round

Algeria || Argentina || Australia || Belgium || Bosnia and Herzegovina || Brazil || Cameroon || Chile || Colombia || Costa Rica || Croatia || Ecuador || England || France || Germany || Ghana || Greece || Holland || Honduras || Iran || Italy || Ivory Coast || Japan || Mexico || Nigeria || Portugal || Russia || South Korea || Spain || Switzerland || Uruguay || United States

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