So the FIFA World Cup is only days away, and you have no idea what to make of Team USA's chances. Sure, they teased us a little last summer with their second-place finish at the Confederations Cup, beating then 1 ranked Spain, then having Brazil on the ropes before eventually losing 3-2.
But this is the same USA team that then followed that up with a 5-0 beating at the hands of Mexico to lose the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
The roster that USA head coach Bob Bradley assembled for South Africa is much the same as the one he called to the Confed Cup. The one key exception is forward Charlie Davies, who was involved in the deadly car crash outside Washington DC last November. His speed and pace was exactly what the Americans needed to partner with Jozy Altidore up top. Even though Davies managed to make a quick recovery, the fact that he never saw the pitch this season with his club team in France forced Bradley to exclude him from the roster.
So who did Bradley call to replace Davies? For speed and pace, he brought in Robbie Findley of Real Salt Lake, who hasn't exactly been lighting it up recently. During the team's last warm-up game against Australia this past Saturday morning (for us in the US, not in South Africa), Findley found himself in great position a number of times. Unfortunately for him, Findley never found the back of the net.
Edson Buddle, on the other hand found the goal on two occasions, once in the fourth minute and the other in the 31st minute. Another forward who's made a good impression of himself is Herculez Gomez, who scored in stoppage time at the end of regulation against the Aussies and also tallied in the team's previous win over Turkey. Since Altidore sprained his ankle last Wednesday, it will be interesting to see if Bradley opts to bench him in favor of Buddle and Gomez who are both red hot.
THE MIDFIELD DEBATE
What to do in the midfield? The cast that Bradley assembled in midfield comes as no surprise, although no one can explain to me why he called in Demarcus Beasley -- I'm assuming for some overrated tangible like veteran leadership, the "been-there-done-that" factor. The starting midfield is pretty much set in stone. From right to left, you have Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, and Landon Donovan. Backing them up will be Stuart Holden, Jose Francisco Torres, Maurice Edu, and Benny Feilhaber -- and Beasley too I guess.
The way this midfield works is simple, Michael Bradley and Clark have to defend and control the midfield so Donovan and Dempsey can have the freedom to push up top and aid the offense. Both those guys are most creative on the ball, and have the ability to finish on goal or make the pass to score. However, if Bradley and Clark aren't defending the midfield well or are busy making bone-headed passes to non-Americans, then Dempsey and Donovan are forced to defend.
THE DREADED LEFT-BACK SPOT
Donovan will probably be doing a lot of defending anyway. The Americans' defense has one major flaw -- well, they have several flaws but one gaping one. The biggest problem facing the Yanks is the left-back position. Bradley brought in Jonathan Bornstein and Carlos Bocanegra for position, but Bornstein is a joke, so for the sake of argument we won't mention his name ever again. Bocanegra is not a bad choice, but he's not a great choice. He'll have major issues dealing against speedy wingers, which is why Donovan will probably defending more then he would like.
The right-back position will be played by Jonathan Spector, who showed tremendous poise in last summer's Confed Cup. The central defenders should be Oguchi Onyewu and Jay DeMerit, with Clarence Goodson being a viable replacement. They will be dictated by the man between the posts, goalkeeper Tim Howard.
SO WHAT SHOULD WE EXPECT?
This team is the definition of helter-skelter; they show moments of brilliance like their win over Spain, and the first halves of their finale against Brazil and their group stage match against Italy. Then the Yanks will show moments of terrible soccer like the second halves of their losses to Brazil in the finale and Italy in the group play.
The US should get favorable results against both Slovenia and Algeria, but what against England? Although on paper England should completely dominate this game, this US team is more than capable of pulling off the upset.
That first match against the Brits (1:30 pm Houston time), will be key to the Americans' chances of advancing to the knockout stage. A win or a draw will ease the pressure for the next two games; a loss will put the Americans in a bad situation.
See, the problem with the US, and American soccer in general, is that they play a "defend and counter-attack" game. Sure, England will attack the US, but Slovenia and Algeria are going to force the US to be more offensive-minded. That's why getting a result against England will be huge.
My prediction: the US will advance as the second place team out of Group C. What that means is that they'll have a date against Group D's first-place team, which should be Germany. If they do make it out of the group stage, anything is possible.