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In just 30 days time, the U.S. will look to improve on its dismal showing at the 2006 World Cup which, granted, is setting the bar pretty low. After failing to qualify for the knock-out stage in 2006, possibilities look much more optimistic this time around. But just how much more optimistic still remains a question mark. The U.S. will start the tournament in Group C along with Algeria, Slovenia and England.
At first glance you’d think the U.S. is in good shape, right? The top two teams from each group advance to the next stage, so it should be in the bag. It’s always a tough game against the Brits, but the U.S. should certainly be able to manage the likes of Algeria and Slovenia. Showing good form in last year’s Confederations Cup, particularly with a win over Spain as well as being up on Brazil 2-0 at the half in the final, should give the U.S. plenty to be optimistic about when they show up to South Africa. But, if you take a look at the road both Slovenia and Algeria took to qualify the possibility of some stunning upsets, I’m sure it’s causing some concern for Bob Bradley and his management team. So who are the other teams in our group?
Although it’s been almost a quarter century since they’ve competed in a World Cup, Algeria boasts an impressive win over Egypt to even qualify for the tournament. Keep in mind that Egypt is currently ranked 14th in the FIFA World Rankings vs. U.S.A.’s 16th rank and has some fairly prolific goal scorers with the likes of Mohamed Zidane. Slovenia, the smallest country in the competition, is relatively new to international tournaments, playing their first (as a nation) in 2000. However, they had an impressive 2-1 win in Moscow over 12th ranked Russia in the European playoffs last year to qualify for South Africa.
So is the table set for the U.S. to match, or dare I say exceed, their quarterfinals appearance in 2002? Absolutely. They’ve got the form, quality and now (for once) some significant, international experience (21 out of the preliminary 30 selected yesterday play in leagues other than the MLS) to make some waves. The Americans are clearly the favorites against both Algeria and Slovenia, although with the drama and intensity that comes with the World Cup no game is a gimme. The game against England is challenging at best and daunting at worst. The Brits are the overall favorites to win the tournament and you’d be hard pressed to find a player in better form than stand-out striker Wayne Rooney is right now.
If the United States is to make any progress this go-around, one person to watch for will be former New England Revolution stand-out Clint Dempsey. Dempsey played for the Revs between 2004-2006 and now plays for Fulham in the Premiership. This recent campaign has been a good one for Dempsey with 6 goals to date and 8 in all competitions. He’s a lethal threat playing in that space behind the strikers but in front of the mid-fielders and being a more seasoned veteran on the team I’m sure people will look to him for leadership.
Also, keep an eye out for Carlos Bocanegra, who will be a stalwart on the backline. Bocanegra plays his soccer with French top flight club Renne and was the skipper during the Confederations Cup run when they defeated then #1 in the world Spain.
Landon Donovan will no doubt be a big part of any success had in South Africa. Adding to the growing list of American’s taking their game international, Donovan just recently finished up a loan stint with Everton (he also played in Germany in 2001-2005, and 2009) where he played in 13 competitions and netted two goals while winning the club’s Player of the Month honors back in January. I’m sure he’ll make his presence felt on the score sheet as he is the United States all-time leading goal scorer in international competitions with 40 goals.
Although these may be names you‘re already familiar with, one name you might not have heard that will be sure to make a HUGE splash in South Africa is Jozy Altidore. Let me run through some of the highlights of Altidore’s resume to date. He was drafted by the New York Metro Stars (now the Red Bulls) in 2006 at the ripe young age of 16. Later on that year, he became the youngest player to score in an MLS playoff game. In 2008 he signed with historic Spanish club Villareal for a record $10 million (highest transfer fee ever paid for an MLS player, surpassing the aforementioned Dempsey). Later on that year, while playing for Villareal, he became the first American international to score in La Liga. Altidore now brings his game to the Premiership after signing with Hull City last summer. In his first game for Hull, he provided an assist for the only goal of the match and scored his first goal for the club later on that month.
In short, Altidore has the pace, size and goal-scoring prowess to cause a lot of problems for teams in South Africa (not to mention the aging and injured back four of England) and don’t be surprised if this kid is a household name by the end of 2010. Personally I’m a little bummed that we won’t be seeing the striking duo of Altidore and New Hampshire’s own Charlie Davies in South Africa as Davies is still recovering from a near fatal car crash and didn’t get selected to the 30 man roster. Those two, in my opinion, ran circles around the Spanish defense at last year’s Confederations Cup.
More on the recent roster selections later on in the week.