World Cup Scouting – United States

With the 1994 World Cup approaching, an American pundit – to the delight of the editors of football gaffe compilations everywhere – stated that ‘soccer’ was only the fourth most popular sport in America, behind Baseball, Basketball, Ice Hockey and ‘Football’. Sixteen years and one David Beckham later – the world’s most popular sport shows few signs of overtaking the American ‘big four’. Yet, the gulf in quality between the American squad of 1994 and 2010 is huge, the current 23 are at the World Cup purely on merit, not by dint of being the hosts. What follows is an analysis of their key areas.

In Howard, Hahnemann and Guzan, the U.S.A have a trio of Premier League goalkeepers. Since leaving Manchester for Merseyside, Tim Howard has established himself as one of the Premier League’s finest shot-stoppers, in turn establishing himself as the number one for the ‘Stars and Stripes’. Should he falter, then Marcus Hahnemann – the keeper who sits proudly atop the 2009/2010 Castrol rankings – will be in pole position to replace him. He in turn faces competition from Brad Guzan, the young goalkeeper kept out of the Aston Villa first team by yet another American: Brad Friedel.

While the U.S.A. defence is far from weak, it lacks the strength in depth that makes the goalkeeping department so strong. Onyewu, one of the most technically gifted defender in America’s footballing history, has missed the international season with injury. Spector, the starting left back, has struggled with form all season long, finding himself the subject of fan frustration towards the end of West Ham’s stuttering season. Thus, it is crucial that captain Bocanegra marshals the often erratic backline, his experience and consistency are integral to American hopes. A recent 4-2 defeat to Czech Republic highlighted the defensive frailties, Coach Bradley must ensure lessons have been learnt from this game if the U.S.A. are to emulate their performance of 8 years ago.

In order for the States to stand a chance of emulating this performance, Landon Donovan will have to shine – the L.A. Galaxy man is the star name in a strong midfield. Donovan is the fulcrum of the American team, the beating heart and talisman. Ably supported by Clint Dempsey and the Coach’s son Michael Bradley, Donovan is instrumental in the majority of U.S attacks and his performances will be key if they are to progress beyond the group stage.

Many observers were shocked at Bradley’s decision to axe both Eddie Johnson and Brian Ching from his provisional squad – the pair boast an impressive haul of 86 caps together. Instead, Bradley opted for Herculez Gomez, Edson Buddle and Robby Findley, a trio who have amassed just 13 caps between them. Favouring inexperience is almost always a gamble, yet it would be even more of a gamble to select Johnson – the career of the Fulham front man has seemingly been in steady decline for the past three seasons. First choice striker remains Altidore, an inauspicious season at Hull has not affected his prolific international form.

While they may lack the star-studded roster of a major European nation, the United States under Bradley have become a respected national side – they were the team who ended Spain’s incredible 35 match unbeaten run in emphatic fashion. Football may not be set to oust the staples of American sport from their positions of cultural eminence anytime soon, but the 2010 United States team are far more than the novelty host nation of 1994.


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