One of the most intriguing stories at next summer's FIFA World Cup in Brazil comes from the United States men's national team.
Since hiring Jurgen Klinsmann as manager in 2011, the Yanks have transformed into a side that is the dominant force in CONCACAF, and one that is not afraid to take on a few treacherous European road trips.
Klinsmann, who also guided Germany to the World Cup semifinals in 2006, has been known to stir up the pot a bit as well with several dual-nationals and players based in Major League Soccer entering the fray unlike the past.
The United States will head into Brazil with plenty of lofty expectations on the home front, but what exactly will they be capable of when they venture down to South America?
First and foremost, let's start with the draw, which will be held on December 6.
Many in the footballing world believe a favorable draw helps a team when the World Cup begins.
However, if the recent trend continues for the United States, they will be placed in a difficult group, just like they have in every other World Cup since 1998.
Back in 2010 when the World Cup occurred in South Africa, the Yanks were handed a very easy draw with England being their only real competition.
The Americans also had a fairly easy group in 2002 in South Korea and Japan, especially after they stunned Portugal, 3-2, in their first group game.
After both of those tournaments, the Yanks came home with plenty to be proud of. In 2002, they reached the quarterfinals after beating Mexico and we all remember how 2010 went thanks to Landon Donovan's dramatic goal against Algeria before the fatigued side crashed out in the round of 16 to Ghana.
No one in the American camp is keen to remember the 2006 draw where the Yanks earned a single point in a group with Italy, Ghana and the Czech Republic.
As 2014 approaches, many are expecting the worst for the Americans when it comes to the draw, and if they do receive tough opposition in the group stage, they will be prepared, unlike 2006.
During his reign as manager, Klinsmann has brought his team into unfriendly European environments and come out victorious (see Italy in 2012 and Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2013).
The Yanks also defeated Germany in June on their own soil, but some do not count that game since the Germans essentially lined up their "B" squad.
Not only have the Americans won in Europe, they have gotten results at what was once the most feared venue in all of North America, Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
In their last two trips to Azteca, the United States got a win and a draw, two results that were a massive boost to their collective confidence.
While those accomplishments should be applauded, there are still plenty of things to work on as the United States counts down to their takeoff for Brazil.
The most glaring concern comes from the back four as no player has permanently laid his claim to the right-back position.
Brad Evans and Geoff Cameron look to be the front runners for the starting spot, but veteran Steve Cherundolo and recent castoff Timothy Chandler could enter into the picture as well before June.
The next concern that American fans do not want to think about is what will happen if Michael Bradley cannot play?
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While it is an extreme situation that may not worry anyone come the start of the World Cup, the Americans missed Bradley dearly when he was absent for the final few games of the Hex in September and October.
The other true superstars on the team, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, must also be 100 percent for the team to avoid a calamitous ending in Brazil.
With all that being said, getting out of the group stage is now expected of the Yanks regardless of their draw.
If the Yanks fail to finish in the top two of their group, heads will most likely roll and Klinsmann's will be the first.
After advancing out of the group stage, the sky is the limit for the Americans, who could be in a spell of terrific form as the tournament rolls on into the deeper, more meaningful rounds.
Making it into the final or semifinals of the tournament is something that the Yanks are not expected to do, but if it does happen, the United States of America will go absolutely berserk about their beloved national team.
In all likelihood, that will not happen, but a berth in the quarterfinals is a very realistic and achievable goal for Klinsmann's men.
Reaching the round of 16 and exiting at that stage will be deemed acceptable, but not a success, so for the Yanks to come home with their heads held high, a quarterfinal berth is a must.
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