5 Reasons to be Optimistic About the US at the World Cup in Brazil
Why does it seem like it has been years since the latest “Dos a Cero” win over Mexico, and the US clinching its place at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil? Drawing the Group of Death, along with the controversial snubbing of US soccer legend Landon Donovan, has sent US Men’s National Team fans (read: every American for at least 1 week every 4 years) into a tailspin of gloom-and-doom leading up to this summer’s tournament. NO MORE!
Yes, we have to play our archrival, Ghana; yes, we have to play the team with the best player in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal; and yes, we have to play the #2 ranked team in the world, Germany. And yes, we have to do all of this without Lando. So what? We have a ton to be optimistic about and we actually have a chance to do something in this tournament. Here’s why we should be rallying around the squad, rather than hanging our heads before we even show up in Natal on June 16th.
The US boosts two of the best shot-stoppers on any roster. Tim Howard (Everton) and Brad Guzan (Aston Villa) both start for their respective squads in the English Premier League. Howard, the starter, has been the backbone of the USMNT since 2007 and has proven he can lead our squad from the back. Howard was excellent this year for Everton, leading them to a 5th place finish and a birth in the Europa League next season. His ability to command defenders, make spectacularly acrobatic saves, and most importantly, play well consistently, will give the US a chance in every one of our tough games.
If something happens to Howard, Guzan is a more than capable backup and will likely be our starter in 2018. With this tandem, the USMNT will not have to worry about a slippage in goal, something that plagues, and ultimately dooms, certain countries (cough…cough…England) every 4 years.
- Our Record
Since 2012, the US has had a very impressive record and, most importantly, a record for winning. The US finished #1 in CONCACAF qualifying for the World Cup (an impressive and underrated feat, considering the places the team has to travel to play in suboptimal conditions). They also won the CONCACAF Gold Cup last summer, a tournament that saw the immergence of important players who would eventually become part of the World Cup squad in Mix Diskerud and Chris Wondolowski.
In addition to our impressive record in CONCACAF, the USMNT also landed significant results in international friendlies over Italy (in Italy), Mexico (at the Azteca in Mexico City), Germany, Bosnia (in Bosnia) and South Korea. We ran with the best in hostile territory and proved that our team is mentally tough and strong going forward; something that Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has stressed.
These strong results over the last 2 years should be a rallying point for our squad in Brazil, as it proves that we can play well and get results against the best squads in the world. Even without high profile names from top to bottom, our roster is filled with guys who know how to win, who have won recently, and who are hungry to show that this recent string of success wasn’t a fluke.
- Our Big Guns in the Midfield
The USMNT boasts a world-class goalkeeper between the posts, but the defense remains somewhat unpredictable and a bit unreliable. This is mostly because we are not sure who the best 4 players at the back are or who will have the best chemistry playing together. I’ve seen great things from Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, but the fact that DeMarcus Beasley may have to be relied on at left back, along with the continued uncertainty of whether Fabian Johnson is playing on defense or in the midfield, leaves too many questions on defense for my liking. That being said…
Our midfield is really outstanding! We boast a very strong central/holding midfield with Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, and Michael Bradley. Bradley (son of former USMNT Head Coach Bob Bradley) may be the most important player on the team, and may be the best as well. Everything runs through Bradley, as he transitions the play upfield as well as any midfielder in the tournament not named Pirlo. His marking is solid and he also moves forward effectively (especially with Beckerman playing alongside him) to put himself in goal-scoring opportunities, proving how complete he is as a midfielder.
Not much needs to be said about what Clint Dempsey does for the team going forward. His threat to attack goal is ever-present and has been on display in Seattle for the Sounders this season. He is the leader-by-example of this team, and Jurgen trusts him to lead the attack in Brazil (which was also confirmed leaving Donovan off the roster). We should expect nothing less than solid play and goals coming from Dempsey at the most crucial moments in Brazil.
On the wing is where this team gets fun and creative. Without Donovan, we’re surely to see some combination of Diskerud, Alejandro Bedoya, Graham Zusi, Fabian Johnson, and (18 year-old!) Julian Green. While we don’t know all that much about Green yet (other than his potential), we know that Zusi can create chances at-will for our strikers and other midfielders, which he does continually for Sporting Kansas City. We also know that Bedoya featured for Nantes in Ligue 1 this year in France and proved he is more than capable of creating goals from the right. Ultimately, these wingers will need to create chances for our strikers and give Dempsey and Bradley the space they need up the middle. Chemistry is key, and taking chances will be critical if we are to advance. If Jurgen thinks the best way to accomplish this is without Donovan, then we should trust his system, knowing that one player could not will the team to advance out of this group (like Donovan did in 2010). This system needs to be a complete attack that generates consistent chances, and having the right midfielders is more important than having the popular ones.
Jozy Altidore, Aron Johannsson, and Chris Wondolowski are the 3 strikers we are going with to Brazil. While Aron and Chris are quality players and could have goals in them as late-game substitutes, Jozy will be receiving the bulk of the work up top. Even though he was massively disappointing at Sunderland this year, he did not have the quality of distribution that he needed to succeed, especially against Premier League defenses. On the USMNT, Jozy thrives in his attacking role, scoring 8 goals in 2013 for his country (not to mention 31 goals for his then-club AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands in 2013 before moving to Sunderland). At 24 years old, Jozy has already been to a World Cup and has been the featured striker for the US in 2 rounds of qualifying matches. This experience, combined with his hunger to score goals after a disappointing year in Sunderland, will surely benefit the US in Brazil. Jozy is a real threat in our system and we should feel confident that he will have goals in him this summer.
In an interview with ESPN’s Roger Bennett, Jurgen Klinsmann announced this will be the “World Cup of patience.” And he is absolutely correct. The stadiums are still not fully completed, the crowds and protestors will be out in full force at times, the weather and travel will be forces to reckon with (we play Portugal in Manaus at Arena Amazonia) and ultimately, the teams that “roll with it” the best will do well. Guess what – the US had to go to places like Honduras, Costa Rica, Mexico, Jamaica, Panama and Denver (where they played a match during a blizzard!) all throughout qualification. If anyone in the group knows how to “roll with it” in traveling, playing in strange climates, and dealing with unpredictable crowds, it’s the USMNT. For comparison, Germany had to travel to Austria, Ireland, and Sweden during the qualifiers (i.e. places that don’t have glass sticking out of the pitch).
The USMNT knows how to keep its composure. If something in travel or climate goes wrong, other teams are in trouble (i.e. Germany), but we are not. We have a winning mentality that is not built around one or two players but rather a team belief and a coach that brings out the best in his players. If another team’s best player goes down, they are in trouble (i.e. Portugal), but we are not. Most of all, we have resolve, and are comfortable playing possession, counter attack, and bunker down defense. Our team is well-disciplined and well conditioned, making us mentally and physically tough. If another team is left to bunker down, play defense and rely on their goalkeeper, they are in trouble (i.e. Ghana), but we are not.
We are built to adapt to whatever style we need to play. Yes, we are up against the best in the opening group stage, but things happen. No one expected the Italians or the French to not make it past the group stage in 2010, yet the teams that advanced instead of them (Uruguay and Paraguay) made it to the quarterfinals. Just because we have a difficult draw does not mean we should be pessimistic. In fact, I think the opposite is true: there is no better time to show the world the powerhouse the USMNT has become than right now. Our Group G is the Group of Death because we are in it – if we stunk, the real Group of Death would be Group B (Netherlands, Chile, Spain, Australia) or Group D (England, Italy, Uruguay, Costa Rica). The other teams in our group and around the world are afraid of us to upset the balance of world soccer power in Brazil. As they should be.
THROUGH THE PERILOUS FIGHT!
image by user Steindy – license under GNU Free Documentation license – Creative Commons.