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USA: Team Preview - 2014 FIFA World Cup

FIFA World Cup 2014 Team Preview: USA

USA National Men’s Soccer team popularly known as USMNT

The US Men’s national soccer team has improved by leaps and bounds under the guidance of Jurgen Klinsmann and Tab Ramos. The team had a phenomenal year in 2013 when they set a national record match winning streak of 12 games, just three away from equalling the world record of 15 held by Spain. Recent performances by the team have captured more fans, and helped the sport gain popularity in the country.

The Major League Soccer (MLS) has more followers today, and is competing with the Major League Baseball (MLB) in popularity ratings across the country. There are youth clubs mushrooming all over the country, and it just got better for the fans with team USA qualifying for the FIFA World Cup to be held in Brazil, one can expect the country to be engulfed by soccer fever.

Road to the World Cup

The United States of America qualified from the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) region which consists of North America, Central America, Caribbean and three members from South America – Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana – a total of 41 members.

Team USA was directly seeded into the third Round alongside Mexico, Honduras, Jamaica, Costa Rica and Cuba – the top 6 ranked teams in the CONCACAF region. The 3rd Round was held from 8th June to 16th October 2012. USA was in Group A with Jamaica, Guatemala and Antigua-and-Barbuda. Starting as the favorites to win the group, USA topped the table with 13 points, winning 4, drawing one and losing one. Clint Dempsey emerged as the second-best goal scorer with 5 goals just one less than the Costa Rican, Álvaro Saborío.

In the fourth round, a total of six teams -- the top two teams from each group in round three – played a double round-robin tournament from 6th February to 15th October 2013. Team USA got off to a bad start losing to Honduras, 2-1; the good sign however was, Clint Dempsey carrying his good form into the round by scoring a goal. Dempsey once again was on the score-sheet when they beat Costa Rica in their next match.

Jozy Altidore soon joined the goal scoring party for the USA, finding the net three times in three matches as they beat, Jamaica, 1-2, Panama, 2-0 and Honduras, 1-0. They lost to Costa Rica, 3-1, but once again regained their form to win their last three matches. USA comfortably ended on top of the table with 22 points, having won 7, drawn one and lost two. Jozy Altidore ended as one of the top scorers with 4 goals. 

Squad

USMNT Training Session

June 2nd was the deadline set by FIFA to finalize the squad, however Juegen Klinsmann was not going to wait that long, as he announced the 23 man squad, on 22nd May, for the FIFA World Cup 2014 to be held in Brazil. There has been a lot of talk surrounding, USA’s all-time top-scorer Landon Donovan being left out of the squad. 

The squad is well-balanced, however when it comes to experience playing in FIFA World Cups, there are only a handful of players. The selection of 18-year old, Julian Green has raised a few eyebrows since he was chosen ahead of the more experienced Landon Donovan. Julian Green holds dual nationality with Germany and the USA; however he switched to USA as he had impressed coach Klinsmann, and he had good chances of making the squad to Brazil.

Note: On March 24, 2014, FIFA approved Green's change of nationality, making him eligible to play in games for the United States. 

Goalkeepers (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa/England), Tim Howard (Everton/England), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders (8): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla/Mexico), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin/Germany), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/England), Timmy Chandler (Nürnberg/Germany), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim/Germany), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders)

Midfielders (8): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes/France), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg/Norway), Julian Green (Bayern Munich/Germany), Jermaine Jones (Besiktas/Turkey), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Forwards (4): Jozy Altidore (Sunderland/England), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar/Netherlands), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Coach

USMNT Head Coach: Jurgen Klinsmann

Jürgen Klinsmann, former German striker, and a World Cup winner (1990) with West Germany and UEFA EURO champions with the German team (1996), was named as the head coach for the USA men’s national soccer team (USMNT) on 29th July 2011. The USA Soccer President Sunil Gulati expressed his delight: “He is a highly accomplished player and coach with the experience and knowledge to advance the program. Jürgen has had success in many different areas of the game and we look forward to the leadership he will provide on and off the field.”

Klinsmann’s coaching career began in 2004, when he was appointed as the head coach of the German national team. He began re-structuring the team by giving more youngsters a chance. His squad selection for the 2006 FIFA world cup drew a lot of criticism from the media and fans, but Klinsmann had made clear that the selection was based on recent performances than the player’s history and reputation. The critics were silenced when the young German team finished 3rd in the FIFA World Cup 2006, and Klinsmann went on to win the German Coach of the Year award.

After taking over as the coach of USMNT, the highlight of the team’s performance was on February 29, 2012, when team USA had an historic 1-0 victory against Italy. It was the first win against the four-time FIFA World Cup winners, breaking a 10-game losing streak against Italy dating back to 1934. The USA also broke Italy’s 20 games winning streak against all opponents at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris in Genoa. Under Klinsmann’s guidance team USA comfortably qualified for the FIFA world cup 2014 from the CONCACAF region.

The role of a manager according to Klinsmann: "A good manager helps players understand they have a results-span in their lifetime and their job is to get the most out of that span by fulfilling 100 percent of their potential." 

Best Starting XI

USMNT, best starting lineup includes a right mix of experience and youth, among the experienced players we have, veteran DeMarcus Beasley in defense with 115 caps, skipper Clint Dempsey with 103 caps, young midfielder Michael Bradley with 84 caps, and goal-keeper, Tim Howard with 98 caps. These are the key players who will share tips and guide the young guns in the team. Klinsmann is known for his attacking style, and guiding a young German team to finish 3rd in the FIFA world cup 2006, the USMNT has a similar outlook, and would be looking for a similar result in Brazil.

Goalkeeper: Tim Howard

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley, Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, Fabian Johnson

Midfielders: Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi, Clint Dempsey

Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Chris Wondolowski

Formations & Tactics

The USMNT mostly play in the common 4-2-3-1 formation and occasionally switch to 4-4-2 and the 4-3-3 formation. Klinsmann has also experimented with the 4-3-1-2 formation. One of Klinsmann’s favorite seems to be the diamond midfield formation, which usually involves Client Dempsey leading the pack with two other midfielders, and Graham Zusi moving into an advanced position on the right wing.

One of the strengths of team USA is attacking down the center, with forwards converging in the box. A similar diamond formation is used while attacking where one of the forwards moves high up the filed with the other striker and an advanced midfielder falling back playing the supporting role. It will be interesting to see what tactics the coaches use when they are up against Ghana, Portugal and Germany. USMNT have a comparitively strong mid-field and a decent defense, the problem area would be the inexperienced forwards, and lack of bench strength. 

Mid-Field Diamond Tactic
Up-Field Diamond Tactic

Best Performance at the World Cup

Surprisingly the best performance of team USA was in 1930, when they finished third, and then there was a long stretch, 1950 onwards, where they failed to qualify until 1990.

The ‘Best Performance at World Cup’ is nothing more than a statistician’s delight, obviously it can be used to track the history and legacy of the team and inspire future generation of footballers, but will not help us in making a prediction about the current team.

USA at FIFA World Cups
YEAR RESULT
1930 Semi Final
1934 Round 1
1938 Withdrew
1950 Group stage
1954 Did not qualify
1958 Did not qualify
1962 Did not qualify
1966 Did not qualify
1970 Did not qualify
1974 Did not qualify
1978 Did not qualify
1982 Did not qualify
1986 Did not qualify
1990 Group stage
1994 Round of 16
1998 Group stage
2002 Quarter final
2006 Group stage
2010 Round of 16

Predictions: How far can they go?

The USMNT are in Group G which is termed as ‘The Group of Death’ alongside, Germany, Portugal and Ghana. Klinsmann’s knowledge of the German team will help team USA to counter their tactics; however the key game for team USA will be their match against Ghana. If they manage to win the game, then the team will be in great mental shape to take on the heavy-weights. USA will have to cause an upset by beating either Portugal or Germany to qualify –  looking at the team strength, Portugal seems like an easier target. USA may not be the favorites to win the World Cup, but they will cause major disruptions in the group stage. I expect them to reach the round of 16.

To see other Team Previews : 2014 FIFA World Cup Team Previews

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