With or without Landon Donovan, the United States was going to struggle in this year's World Cup after being drawn in the "group of death" alongside Germany, Portugal and Ghana. One player—even if he could have been an impact player off the bench—wasn't going to make this group easier.
Germany are among a handful of teams predicted to win the entire tournament, Portugal has the world's best player at the moment, Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo (though a witch doctor might be taking care of that) and Ghana has beaten the United States in the past two World Cups.
Never mind escaping the group—just earning a point is going to be a fight.
However, led by Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard, the United States won't be a pushover. Let's break down their chances of advancing in Brazil.
|United States 2014 World Cup Roster|
|GK||Brad Guzan||Aston Villa|
|GK||Nick Rimando||Real Salt Lake|
|DF||Matt Besler||Sporting Kansas City|
|DF||John Brooks||Hertha Berlin|
|DF||Geoff Cameron||Stoke City|
|DF||Omar Gonzalez||LA Galaxy|
|DF||DeAndre Yedlin||Seattle Sounders|
|MF||Kyle Beckerman||Real Salt Lake|
|MF||Michael Bradley||Toronto FC|
|MF||Brad Davis||Houston Dynamo|
|MF||Julian Green||Bayern Munich|
|MF||Graham Zusi||Sporting Kansas City|
|FW||Clint Dempsey||Seattle Sounders|
|FW||Aron Johannsson||AZ Alkmaar|
|FW||Chris Wondolowski||San Jose Earthquakes|
This United States roster is an interesting blend of experience and youth. Players like Bradley, Dempsey, Howard, DeMarcus Beasley, Jermaine Jones and Jozy Altidore, among others, have plenty of experience at international level, while youngsters like Aron Johannsson, DeAndre Yedlin, Julian Green and John Brooks have just 18 caps between them.
At least the youngsters have provided optimism in camp, Green especially, according to Ives Galarcep of Goal.com:
Green’s work on the pitch in U.S. training camp has impressed many of his teammates, and obviously Klinsmann, who chose to put him on the roster despite his relative lack of experience, which includes just one national team appearance.
'They measure themselves with the quality you bring to the table, not with the age and not where you are coming from,' Klinsmann said. '[Teammates] want to see that in the games. We played, over the last 10 days, a lot of small side games, very competitive games and games that you can’t hide. Julian didn’t hide, not even one second.'
The U.S. coach also insisted Green's presence did not cost Donovan a place on the World Cup roster.
'There was never a comparison [to Donovan] because he’s just different,' Klinsmann said of Green. '[Green] brings a different element to the game, and we are excited about it.'
However, this tournament will still be all about Bradley. The midfield maestro pulls the strings for the United States, and together with Dempsey, he is the key men.
This year's tournament feels like the bridge between generations, as the soon-to-be-replaced Bradleys and Dempseys play together with the likes Greens and Johannssons. But will that transition be a painful or full of promise and excitement? We'll find out in the United States' first match against Ghana on June 16.
In simple terms, if the United States don't beat Ghana, their World Cup is almost assuredly over. It's hard to imagine the United States earning anything other than a draw against Germany and Portugal, so they must take all three points against Ghana.
But that will be no easy task.
The Ghanaians are very talented. Boasting players such as Asamoah Gyan, Kevin-Prince Boateng, Kwadwo Asamoah, Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari, they'll look to boss the midfield, disrupt the United States' rhythm and pounce like a cobra on the attack.
The United States has the talent to beat Ghana, and it is imperative that they do.
The team's second game will be against Portugal, who they'll likely need to earn a draw against if they are to stand any chance of advancing.
USMNT fans probably wouldn't mind if they triple-teamed Ronaldo and took their chances with the other nine outfield players. In all seriousness, finding a way to contain Ronaldo—if he's healthy enough to play—will be the key to earning a draw.
They'll close with Germany, a team so stacked it's absurd. They have a better defense than the United States. They also have a better midfield, far greater depth and are vastly experienced.
If the United States managed a draw against this German side, it would be a shock. But—and this is a pretty big but—if Germany already have the group wrapped up by the time they play the United States, they may choose to play a "B team" rather than risk injury to key players. While Germany's bench could make a deep run in this tournament in their own right, their selections would certainly improve the United States' odds of earning a point.
It might be a pipe dream, but it's the World Cup—what do we have if we don't have hope?
The United States won't escape this group. They'll earn a draw with Ghana in the first match, but Portugal and Germany will prove too tough for a United States team in transition. Portugal has a strong defense and will boss the midfield, while Germany has class all over the pitch and will simply dominate the United States from the opening kick.
The U.S. will perform admirably, and I think they'll make Portugal and Germany work. At no point will this be an embarrassing tournament for the United States, but at some point Ronaldo and the fantastic German attackers will expose a weak U.S. defense.
The "group of death" will live up to its name for the UNMNT. This tournament will be a forgettable one for the Americans, mostly due to a very cruel draw.