Saturday, May 1, 2010

The U.S. at the World Cup

The 2010 (men's soccer) World Cup will be played in South Africa in the latter half of June and the first half of July. I, of course, will be rooting for the United States, although how they'll perform in the tournament is a real question mark. In last year's Confederations Cup tournament, the U.S., which had a lackluster preliminary round (but then squeaked into the "knockout" stage by beating Egypt 3-0, the precise margin of victory it had to have in order to advance), defeated Spain, the #1 rated team in the world, 2-0, and then led Brazil, favored by many to win the World Cup this year, by two goals in the championship before conceding three in the second half, proving that it can do some damage when the ball falls the right way. It's too much to expect our guys to win four successive "knockout" round games at the World Cup, but it will be a major disappointment if they don't make it out of the group qualifying stage, especially with the draw they got (England, Slovenia, and Algeria).

However, the U.S. is still facing an uphill battle. One, we have a pretty limited pool of top-notch talent, and key injuries (especially to Charlie Davies, our fastest forward, and Oguchi Onyewu, our best central defender in a back line that has not otherwise distinguished itself in qualifying) have not helped. It's hard to say we have any world-class players; we have several who are capable of world-class play, especially Tim Howard (goalkeeper whose heroics in net can, and all too often must, compensate for the deficiencies of his back line), Clint Dempsey (see photo above -- search on Youtube for his brilliant goals this season for his EPL club team Fulham against Stoke City and Juventus, not to mention the opener against Brazil last year), and Landon Donovan (who, although he has a history of blending into the landscape against the better sides, has made some great goals lately, especially the second goal against Brazil last year, which came at the end of what was about the closest thing to a perfectly executed two-on-two "fast break" that you'll ever see in a soccer game at any level of play), but all of them will have to come up big merely for the U.S. to make it out of group play. Two, whereas the team's coach, the home-grown Bob Bradley, did succeed in getting the Americans to qualify in first place in the CONCACAF region, it's easy to wonder sometimes if he really knows what he's doing, especially when his players look lost and uncomfortable in their assigned positions, which happens dismayingly often. And three, the U.S. plays England, the top-rated team in its group, in the first game, and if it doesn't secure a result (win or tie) in that game, it will feel all the more pressure to play well against Slovenia and Algeria, which are fairly unknown quantities. Still, there are lots of countries who'd like to be in the U.S.'s shoes but instead are staying home, so we'll see how things play out.