The United States men's national team had high hopes for this summer's 2014 FIFA World Cup before being drawn into Group G, otherwise known as the "Group of Death."
But despite the danger Germany, Ghana and Portugal present to the Americans in Brazil, the potential exists for Jurgen Klinsmann's inexperienced but talented squad to surprise in South America.
The United States' 2014 World Cup campaign kicks off Monday, when Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Co. seek vengeance against Ghana. The Black Stars bounced the Americans from the previous two World Cups and once again stand in the United States' way of the knockout stage.
With kickoff fast approaching, we'll get you up to speed on where the U.S. currently stands heading into group play.
|United States' 2014 World Cup Schedule|
|Date||Matchup||Venue||Time (ET)||TV||Live Stream|
|Mon, June 16||Ghana vs. U.S.||Estadio das Dunas, Natal||6 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|Sun, June 22||U.S. vs. Portugal||Arena Amazonia, Manaus||6 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPN|
|Thu, June 26||U.S. vs. Germany||Arena Pernambuco, Recife||12 p.m.||ESPN||WatchESPn|
|Source: ESPN FC|
As already mentioned, the U.S. will kick off Group G play Monday against Ghana, a team the Americans have never beaten on the World Cup stage.
What's more, the U.S. will be coming off a long journey from its base camp in Sao Paulo to the stadium in Natal, which is located in the northeast part of Brazil.
Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl notes the significance of the Americans' opening match:
The best thing to do, of course, is to win your first game. From ’98 on, a whopping 87 percent of teams that have gotten three points from game one (40 of 46) have advanced to the Round of 16...
The U.S.’s past matches the overall World Cup history in this regard. Whenever the Americans have lost their opening game, they have failed to advance (in 1934, 1950, 1990, 1998, 2006). Whenever the U.S. has gotten a result (tie or win) in the opening game, the team has made it to the next round (1930, 1994, 2002, 2010).
The conditions won't get much better for Klinsmann's side as it makes its way through the group stage. USA's second match against Portugal will be played in Manaus. With temperatures likely in the high 80s and humidity adding to the discomfort, expect to see both teams battling through cramps and fatigue.
The United States' final group match against Germany will be played in Recife, which is located just south of Natal, where the Americans open against Ghana. Conditions here are sure to be challenging for both teams, especially for an American squad that played its previous two matches in the sweltering summer heat of northern Brazil.
|United States' 23-Man World Cup Roster|
|G||Brad Guzan||Aston Villa|
|G||Nick Rimando||Real Salt Lake|
|D||Matt Besler||Sporting Kansas City|
|D||John Brooks||Hertha Berlin|
|D||Geoff Cameron||Stoke City|
|D||Omar Gonzalez||L.A. Galaxy|
|D||Fabian Johnson||Borussia Monchengladbach|
|D||DeAndre Yedlin||Seattle Sounders FC|
|M||Kyle Beckerman||Real Salt Lake|
|M||Michael Bradley||Toronto FC|
|M||Brad Davis||Houston Dynamo|
|M||Julian Green||Bayern Munich|
|M||Graham Zusi||Sporting Kansas City|
|F||Clint Dempsey||Seattle Sounders FC|
|F||Aron Johannsson||AZ Alkmaar|
|F||Chris Wondolowski||San Jose Earthquakes|
Although U.S. fans will see some familiar faces in Brazil this summer, the squad is a relatively inexperienced one overall. Aside from what mainstays like Dempsey, Bradley, Jozy Altidore, DaMarcus Beasley and Tim Howard bring to the table, experience isn't a strength for this year's squad.
While Bradley and Dempsey are big-time weapons for Klinsmann, the major concern for the Americans lies at the back, where Howard may have to be spectacular at times in order to overcome the USA's inexperienced and unproven back line.
|United States' Projected Starting XI|
Based on what we saw in the three friendlies leading up to Brazil, it's likely we'll see the veteran Beasley at left back, Fabian Johnson at right back and Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron in the two central roles.
Bradley is a certainty in midfield. But the question is, who will be joining him? Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones are sure to play key roles, but Graham Zusi, Mix Diskerud and Alejandro Bedoya will also be battling for playing time.
At the top of the lineup, it will most likely be Altidore and Dempsey, with Aron Johannsson and Chris Wondolowski potentially coming on late as substitutes.
Regardless of which 11 players get the nod for Monday's tilt with Ghana, don't expect the Americans to stay committed to one particular formation.
Prior to the United States' final send-off match against Nigeria, Klinsmann downplayed the significance of settling on one system in Brazil, per Sporting News' Ives Galarcep:
I think there are pros and cons, like with every system, but it doesn't really matter what shape we have, what system we have. It matters how we connect with one another on the field. It's the same with just 10 men, we defend as a whole unit and you move forward, you keep it compact. No matter what shape it has in that instance, I think we can easily adjust to a 4-4-2 diamond, we can go from a diamond into a flat midfield four, we can go into a 4-2-3-1 which becomes a 4-3-3.
Although the U.S. has had its fair share of ups and downs throughout their three-match send-off series, it will definitely be taking a talented and motivated roster to Brazil. While the lack of World Cup experience could derail this squad's hopes of escaping group play, the lack of expectation could also propel it on another magical run.
The brutal playing conditions in each of the three Group G matches could also be an equalizer, as Ghana, Portugal and Germany will each have to battle those same elements for 90-plus minutes.
If the Americans can stay disciplined at the back, feed the ball to their stars in the attacking third and receive some timely contributions off the bench, this is a team with enough talent and leadership to surprise in Brazil this summer.
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