How Far Can the United States Go at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil?
As the American Outlaws supporters group so eloquently chanted in the stands of CenturyLink Field in Seattle, "We Are Going to Brazil".
The "we", of course, is referring to the United States men's national soccer team, who, barring a catastrophic setback in their final five CONCACAF World Cup qualifying matches, will qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
Most of the ever-present concerns about the team itself have been quelled by the team's play in the last 10 days. It is time to look ahead to Brazil and see what type of damage they can actually do against the world's elite international squads.
While a lot has to be determined about who the possible opponents of the United States will be in exactly one year's time. We do know, however, that at the current level that the U.S. is playing at, they would presumably cruise through the group stage.
Over the last decade, getting out of the group stage at the World Cup has become an assumed guarantee for the Americans. In the last two tournaments, however, it has become a major concern.
In Germany in 2006, the United States created a total debacle for themselves as they crashed out in inglorious fashion in just three matches.
Just three years ago in South Africa, the Bob Bradley-led team needed a miraculous 90th-minute tap in from Landon Donovan against Algeria to advance out of the group stage before being eliminated in the round of 16 to an old World Cup foe in Ghana.
A year before the 2010 World Cup, there were plenty of expectations for the United States squad, but they were derailed by numerous problems and they left South Africa wanting more.
How Far Will the United States Go at the 2014 World Cup?
Looking forward to Brazil, the Americans now have a ton of promise in the final year leading up to the World Cup. Unlike the last World Cup cycle, they will not be shocking the world in the Confederations Cup.
They are making headlines in different ways.
The first thing going for the United States is that the World Cup will be held outside of the European continent for the third time in 12 years, a phenomenon that usually levels the playing field somewhat.
In 2002, in Japan and South Korea, the Americans miraculously found their way into the quarterfinals and one member of that squad, DaMarcus Beasley, will be expected to be one of the veteran leaders on the team bound for Brazil.
Other players that will provide important veteran leadership to the squad, that will undoubtedly have a few World Cup rookies, will be Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, all of whom will be crucial players to the success of the Stars and Stripes in Brazil.
Down the center of the pitch with Howard at goalkeeper, Bradley in defensive midfield and Dempsey sitting behind Jozy Altidore in the attacking midfield, the United States is stacked with plenty of talent and fearless abilities.
The other part of the center focus of the United States starting 11 has also begun to form. A reliable group with center-backs Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler suddenly becomes the missing piece to the United States back four jigsaw puzzle.
As a tandem in the back four, Gonzalez and Besler have started five times and the U.S. hasn't been beaten yet. Those results can not be seen as a fluke as there seems to be some true chemistry forming between the two Major League Soccer stars.
The cast surrounding Gonzalez and Besler in the back four is still to be determined, but manager Jurgen Klinsmann does have a plethora of options. One of those options, Geoff Cameron, has proven to be a sign of Klinsmann's policy of versatility.
Cameron, along with the likes of Brad Evans, Fabian Johnson, Eddie Johnson and Beasley have adapted to new positions in the starting 11 to form a surprisingly strong group of players.
While some of those players will not be in the United States starting 11 a year from now, they could most likely be valuable assets in the squad of 23 if something were to happen to a regular starter.
Depth and versatility are two qualities to a squad that will take them far in a brutal competition like the World Cup.
And then there is the absolutely blistering form of forward Jozy Altidore.
Altidore, who has suddenly found his scoring form at the international level, could be the real reason why the Americans will succeed in Brazil.
The 23-year-old, who was a mere vagabond at the club level until 2011, came alive at AZ Alkmaar last season with 31 goals in all competitions and he has now transferred his form to the international level, where he has scored three goals in his last three games.
Since the 1990 World Cup in Italy, the winner, or co-winner, of the Golden Boot has advanced to the semifinals. While Altidore may not have the career numbers that the likes of Ronaldo or Miroslav Klose have had, he could continue to catch fire in front of goal over the next year and help the United States soar to new heights.
With all that being said, a lot can happen in a 365-day span, all you have to do is look back to the car accident that involved 2009 Confederations Cup star Charlie Davies that forced him out of the 2010 World Cup, to see how one team's fortunes can be changed in the build-up to the World Cup.
But based on what we know right now and everything that can be controlled on the pitch, the United States squad could be one of the history making type when they kick off in Brazil a year from now.
How far do you think the United States can go in Brazil?
Comment below or leave me a comment on Twitter, @JTansey90.
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