Friday, January 31, 2014

USMNT 2014 Preview

The United States Men's National Team is less than 24 hours from kickoff of its 2014 campaign, a friendly against South Korea on Saturday. Here is an overview and some of my thoughts about the coming year for US Men Soccer:

The Group of Death Beckons in Brazil
Ever since the World Cup Draw in December, USMNT fans have been struggling to understand how the Stars and Stripes, the best team on paper in its pot of teams, got the absolute worst draw of the 32 team field. Not only did the US get placed in the "Group of Death," but our boys will also have to travel the most miles of any team in the field. The US, ranked 14th in the world according to the latest FIFA World Ranking, must play two of the top five in the world in its group.

World Cup Schedule
The USMNT's schedule for the Group Stage of the World Cup:

June 16 at 6:00 pm et vs Ghana (24th in the world)
June 22 at 6:00 pm et vs Portugal (5th in the world)
June 26 at 12:00 pm et vs Germany (2nd in the world)

The challenge to advance out of Group G is not insurmountable. The top two teams in each four-team group advance to the Round of 16. A win against Ghana, which knocked the US out of the last two World Cups, would not only provide significant revenge, but would get the US in position to advance. A draw against Portugal might be enough to get the US through with four points, but it might take a win there as well. Any result against Germany would likely be considered one of the most impressive achievements in US soccer history.

One of the biggest storylines this year will be the match against Germany. US Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann was one of the stars of the 1990 World Cup Champion West German squad and managed the German National Team to a third-place finish in the 2006 World Cup. His successor, Joachim Low, was his assistant coach in 2006 and is still the head man for Germany. Emotions will be high.

Players to Watch
Over the next few months, we will have opportunities to watch players fight for spots on the 23-man roster going to Brazil. Tomorrow's lineup will mostly be made up of MLS players, meaning four of the likely Starting XI in Brazil - Jozy Altidore, Geoff Cameron, Clint Dempsey, and Tim Howard - will not be available because they are currently on English Premier League rosters. Another key figure for the USMNT, Michael Bradley, was in the middle of a transfer to Toronto FC of the MLS at the beginning of this training camp and will not be part of the lineup tomorrow.

This leaves an interesting mix of players competing against South Korea. Guys like Landon Donovan, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Eddie Johnson, and Graham Zusi should be securely penciled in on the Brazil roster and will probably start tomorrow. Then you have "bubble" guys in Kyle Beckerman, Mix Diskerud, Clarence Goodson, Michael Parkhurst, and Chris Wondolowski who would love to see the field and make their case to be on that plane heading south this summer. Finally, you have promising young talent like Luis Gil and DeAndre Yedlin who are unlikely to be part of the mix in Brazil, but are thirsty for an opportunity to make an impression.

Final Word
World Cup years are always exciting. We have become a bit spoiled here in the United States, with the Stars and Stripes earning a spot in seven consecutive World Cup final rounds, reaching the Round of 16 in two of the previous six and the Quarterfinals in one other. Soccer has never been more popular in this country and mainstream society is becoming more and more supportive of our national team. This World Cup will be tough for the USMNT in the Group of Death, but I don't think Ghana, Portugal, or Germany are all that enthused about having to play Klinsmann's boys either. If the US can advance out of the group stage in this World Cup, we may see a level of interest in American soccer that has never been seen before.

Enjoy the ride!

1 comment:

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