The U.S. Team isn't expected to make much noise during the 2014 World Cup, as all eyes are on Brazil, Spain, and other big-time squads. Skybet.com currently only gives the U.S. a 17% chance of advancing out of the Group Stage. However, if Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and company stir up some magic this year, the USMNT could find success in Brazil. Below are 5 factors that the oddsmakers might not be considering.
5 Reasons to be Optimistic About Team USA in the 2014 World Cup
1) Tim Howard is still one of the world’s top goalkeepers.
Against Nigeria, Howard earned his 100th cap, a clear display of the experience and consistency that he brings to the USMNT. At 35 years old, Howard still starts for Everton of the English Premier League. He has served as a steady keeper for his club team and recently led the U.S. in the 2010 World Cup to the round of 16. He’s as athletic and as talented as goalkeepers come, and with the United States’ draw, he'll be tested quickly. Germany, Portugal, and Ghana will be bringing the heat offensively, but hopefully Howard will be able to muster up enough heroics to put the USMNT in position to win.
Fun fact: Howard and Lionel Messi are the only soccer players to ever be drafted by the Harlem Globetrotters. Howard’s got good company there. If he manages to channel his inner-Messi (not the World Cup version, though) this tournament, the U.S. will be in good hands.
2) Portugal’s 2014 squad closely mirrors the Portugal of 2002, who the U.S. defeated 3-2 to advance out of its grouping.
Portugal is a brilliantly constructed squad, boasting Cristiano Ronaldo, the most recent Player of the Year, as its first option. However, Ronaldo just finished a long season with Real Madrid, who won the Champions League less than a month ago. This begs the question, will he be at 100% at the start of the World Cup? There have also been rumors of an injured leg that threatens to hold back the sensational player during the 2014 World Cup. He hasn’t seen much action lately, so it’s possible that even the world’s best player could be rusty when Portugal plays the United States. The turnaround in play will be challenging, and the Portuguese national team, which lives and dies with Cristiano Ronaldo, will be impacted greatly if the star takes a while to shake off his hangover.
In 2002, Portugal’s “Golden Generation” failed to advance out of the group stage. The team found themselves trailing 3-0 in the first half against the United States. The U.S. ended up carrying that momentum with them, earning a 3-2 victory and finishing second in the group. Portugal, on the contrary, bowed out of the tournament early after losing to South Korea. After the loss against the United States, Coach Antonio Oliveria blamed the extended European club season for draining his players of energy. That may be a cause for concern in 2014 as well. Additionally, Portugal’s makeup this year is similar to that of the team in 2002, an intimidating attacking presence but a less reliable defense. As you can see, the Portuguese look damn good on paper, but if we can extract any lessons from Portugal’s 2002 performance, there’s reason to believe that their time in Brazil could be short-lived.
3) Jurgen Klinsmann flaunts an exceptional resume.
Earlier this year, Jurgen Klinsmann secured a contract extension through the 2018 World Cup. He’s given his superiors ample reason to believe in him. Since he’s started coaching the United States in 2011, the German native has led a youth movement while simultaneously convincing many talented dual-citizenship players to join the U.S. squad. The new style that he has imposed on the USMNT is a diamond-shaped midfield set that places Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey into their more natural roles. So far, it’s been a success. Leading up to the 2014 World Cup, the United States has defeated Mexico, Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Nigeria by following Klinsmann’s system.
Jurgen Klinsmann won a FIFA World Cup in 1990, as a part of the West German Team. He was a finalist for the Player of the Year Award in 1995. Klinsmann has also coached for Germany, so that gives the team a slight boost in the last matchup of the first stage. In 2006, he took his squad to a 3rd place finish in the World Cup. With the United States, the coach led the team to a 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup victory. Yes, he left the legendary veteran Landon Donovan off this year’s World Cup roster, but Klinsmann’s credentials speak for themselves. He has found success before, albeit with a more talented group of players. But with some trust and time, Klinsmann should be able to turn the Americans into contenders sooner rather than later.
4) Josy Altidore is confident and on top of his game. So are the fans.
The striker just scored his first goal in 28 matches against Nigeria over the weekend. The goal came in the 31st minute and was a result of some beautiful passing and vision from teammates Fabian Johnson and Alejandro Bedoya. Altidore would add another score to his statline in the 68th minute, with a pretty goal he sent into the far right corner. Granted, his goals came against an overmatched team that can hardly compare to the likes of Ghana, Portugal, and Germany. Still, it’s comforting to know that Josy Altidore has returned to form in time for his sport’s biggest event.
Altidore isn’t the only person who’s feeling good heading into the 2014 World Cup. Nearly 200,000 Americans will be traveling to Brazil to madly support the USMNT. That makes the 2014 World Cup the second straight tournament in which U.S. citizens have bought more tickets than all other nations besides the host. Thus, even in Brazil, the U.S. will have some sort of home-field advantage in its first three games. That’s great news for the Americans because Team USA needs all the help it can get.
5) The first-round schedule is favorable.
Ghana, the weakest of the United States’ opposition in the group stage, is the first opponent for the Americans. In most scenarios, this is a must-win game in order for the United States to advance. Luckily, the roster should be the freshest for this one, and if our team can start off the tournament on top of their game, a win here is certainly feasible. Ghana has eliminated the United States from the past two World Cups, so revenge is long overdue. Even with an opening loss here though, the Americans can advance. In 2006, the U.S. dropped their first game to the Czech Republic and reached a draw with Italy, the eventual champions, in the next match.
The final game of the group stage for the United States is against Germany, a team that many see as one of the world’s best. It would be a miracle for the U.S. to outright defeat a focused, attacking German team. However, if Germany plays well enough in its two earlier matches, they may choose to rest their starters for the next round in this one, effectively giving the Americans a much easier shot at earning some points.
Portugal is a better team than the United States. Cristiano Ronaldo is the world’s best striker, with one minor stipulation: he must be healthy. Ronaldo has been struggling with injuries for quite some time now and to deal with this, he’s been sitting out of Portugal’s recent friendly matches. If Ronaldo’s fitness isn’t up to par when the two teams face off on June 22nd, the United States could pull off the upset or at least a tie. Therefore, at first glance, Group G looks like a devastating draw. But who knows what will happen in these matches, I guess we’ll have to just wait and see.