United States

Population: 295,700,000
Area: 9,629,091 km²
Capital: Washington DC
Language: English

The USA won CONCACAF's hexagonal final round in front of Mexico on aggregate results, the teams otherwise identical on points.
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Jan 22 USA v Canada 0-0
Jan 29 USA v Norway 5-0
Feb 10 USA v Japan 3-2
Feb 19 USA v Guatemala 4-0
Mar 01 Poland v USA 0-1
Mar 22 Germany v USA 4-1
Apr 12 USA v Jamaica 1-1
May 24 USA v Morocco 0-1
May 26 USA v Venezuela 2-0
May 28 USA v Latvia 1-0

Participations: (7) 1930, 1934, 1950, 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002
Best placing: Semifinal 1930
Topscorer: Bert Patenaude, 4 goals
More detailed history information

Jun 12 - USA v CZE  in Gelsenkirchen
Jun 17 - USA v ITA  in Kaiserslautern
Jun 22 - USA v GHA  in Nuremberg

- USA in Group E -
Jan Alsos: 2nd place
Pierre Boisrond: 3rd place
Ruud Doevendans: 3rd place
Mike Gibbons: 4th place
Peter Goldstein: 3rd place
Paul Marcuccitti: 3rd place
Felipe Santos: 3rd place
PREDICTION: First round exit


by Peter Goldstein

    On June 10, 1990, the USA played their first World Cup game in 40 years. The opponent was Czechoslovakia, a respected European side, and a USA win would have been a major shock. It didn’t happen. They got creamed 5:1, and everyone nodded sagely. Now, sixteen years and two days later, they’ll again open against the Czechs. But this time a win would much be less shocking than a 5:1 loss--and that’s a measure of how far the Yanks have come.

    But exactly how far have they come? This is a crossroads tournament for the USA. Before 2002 they were at best decent, at worst outclassed. But in Korea/Japan they were one of the tournament’s biggest surprises, coming very close to making the semifinals. How they do in Germany will fix their reputation for some time to come. Right now the feeling persists that the USA is overrated; certainly the FIFA rankings, which as of this writing have them in 4th, are absurd. But the 2006 team looks stronger and in spots deeper than the 2002 version. And if they come through in a very difficult group, they can conclusively say they’re World Cup competitive.

    At keeper, at least, there seems no doubt. At 36, Kasey Keller (Mönchengladbach) is enjoying an Indian summer in the Bundesliga. With Brad Friedel retired from international play, Keller’s again the undisputed number one, and in the qualifiers was superb. He has the complete package--positioning, shot-stopping skills, quickness off his line--and if in form, will be one of the best keepers at the tournament.

    How they play in front of Keller will depend on Bruce Arena’s mood. He’s one of the most tactically flexible coaches in the world; you literally never know what formation he’ll use. In a recent international TV interview he implied he would play 4-5-1, but with Bruce you have to wait until they get on the field. In fact, all you can be sure of is that he won’t use the same setup twice.

    Let’s start with the back line, where centerback is one of the side’s deepest positions. A sure starter is young Oguchi Onyewu (Standard Liège). At 6 feet 4 and 210 pounds (1.93m and 95kg), he has a physique more often seen on the gridiron. He’s a dominating physical presence, excellent in the air, rapidly improving in footwork and positioning. His game tends toward the hard side, though, and his effectiveness will depend on what the referees let him get away with. His most likely partner is veteran Eddie Pope (Salt Lake), not as quick as he used to be, but whose experience and judgment make him a natural complement. Another possibility is Cory Gibbs (Den Haag): known as the “Battle Spider” when he played in Germany, he’s an excellent man-marker, almost as physical as Onyewu, and more mobile. Also in the running is Carlos Bocanegra (Fulham), an all-rounder who’s been inconsistent with the national team but has earned his share of playing time in the EPL.

    The first words of George Washington after he took office were “OK, so who the heck plays left back?” It’s still a problem. In desperation, Arena took one of the team’s best attacking midfielders, Eddie Lewis (Leeds), and dropped him in the spot. So far it’s worked pretty well, although he hasn’t been tested at top level. At least we know he’ll be useful going forward and getting in crosses. The right back is Steve Cherundolo (Hannover). He’s small but intelligent, marks well, and he too knows how to push up and give the strikers service. Veteran Frankie Hejduk (Columbus), all hustle and no skill, gives depth.

    The midfield general should be Claudio Reyna (Manchester City), in his third World Cup. He’s 32, still the most cultured footballer the USA has ever produced. He holds the ball, settles the team, and controls the play from deep. Unfortunately he’s injury-prone, so there’s no way to predict his fitness come June. And speaking of injury-prone, there’s John O’Brien, the human hospital ward. He was outstanding in the middle in 2002: smart, effective in both attack and defense, a fine dribbler and passer. But he’s played only 8 league games in the last 3 years. Word at the moment is that he’s 100%, and he’s just signed with Chivas USA to get match fit. If he’s healthy, he makes the squad, but don’t believe it until you see it. Either way, we should see a lot of Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado), a pure defensive type, aggressive, prone to occasional mistakes, but a hard tackler and good on the ball as well.

    The left side has an embarrassment of riches, which is one of the reasons Lewis was converted to left back. The incumbent is DaMarcus Beasley (PSV Eindhoven), very fast, tireless, best when he goes straight at his man, an improved finisher and excellent defender. He’s having an off-year at his club, but it’s hard to believe he won’t start. Then there’s Bobby Convey (Reading), soon to be in the Premiership, small, pacy, a hard worker with good dribbling and crossing skills. Ideally you’d have them both in the same lineup, but they’re both natural left wingers, and one would have to play out of position. For a natural rightsider, the pick is new face Clint Dempsey (New England). He’s big, with good pace, the sort of guy who takes on his man and makes things happen. But he hasn’t yet shown the quality you need against top European opposition.

    Which brings us to Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), the key player on the side. At 20, he was the golden boy, one of the revelations of 2002. Now he’s in first maturity, one of the top players in CONCACAF--but doubts still remain. He has all the tools to run the attack, but has been inconsistent in the role. He has the talent to play in Europe, but took the easy way out in MLS. As with the USA, this tournament will fix his international reputation. He’ll play attacking midfielder or withdrawn forward; either way, his technique, vision, creativity, and finishing skills will be essential for the team to succeed.

    Striker is the thinnest part of the team. A lock to start is Brian McBride (Fulham), the only American ever to score in two World Cups. He’s at the end of his career, but is still a reliable target man, excellent in the air and back to goal, a good distributor and finisher with an outstanding workrate. The new star is Eddie Johnson (Kansas City), who was brilliant in the qualifiers, but has yet to regain form after a serious toe injury. He’s uneven with the ball at his feet, but is fast, intelligent, makes great off-the-ball runs, and knows how to get it in the net. If he recovers form, he’s a natural partner, but at the moment seems more likely to be on the bench. That means either McBride will go it alone or Donovan will support him in a withdrawn role. Other strikers who might see action are Josh Wolff (Kansas City), an unreliable finisher but with the creativity that leads to goals, and Taylor Twellman (New England), a hard worker with a style similar to McBride’s.

    Although the squad has some skillful players, the USA recipe is the same as ever: fitness, aggressiveness, teamwork. They tend to press high up the field, forcing turnovers, setting up the counterattack. How good are they? Probably on the level of the second-tier European teams, the Swedens, Portugals, and Polands. But teams like that can go very far in the World Cup: look at Belgium 1986, Bulgaria 1994, Croatia 1998, Turkey 2002. Arena is an excellent tournament coach, who knows how to rotate his players for maximum freshness and efficiency. Even in a difficult group, the Yanks have enough talent to advance. But you also need luck, and the team may have used up its quota four years ago. Ask France: if you overachieve the first time, you underachieve the next. So if the USA want to prove themselves worthy, they’ll have to do so against the odds. If they do advance, the football world will officially have a new power.




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