World Cup: Five Reasons Not to Count Out the U.S. in South Africa
FIFA says they are the 14th ranked team in the world. That's fine. The World Cup is to be played on the pitch, not in the offices of FIFA headquarters.
From what I can tell there are about 11 or 12 teams that have a serious shot at the Cup in South Africa.
Brazil, Spain, The Netherlands, Italy, England, Portugal, France, Germany, The Ivory Coast, Mexico, and the U.S. I think your winner comes from one of these. Probably from Brazil, Spain, or the Netherlands, but I think all these teams have a shot should those three teams stumble.
Here are five reasons the U.S. will do well at the World Cup next month.
By do well, I see a fairly easy ride out of the group stage and, depending on the matchup, a very real chance at the final eight. And, once you get that far, anything can happen.
5. Getting Healthy
Winter injuries to key members of the U.S. team were a real concern.
Among the wounded were Clint Dempsey, Charlie Davies, and Stuart Holden.
Striker Dempsey returned from injury to finish the season with his English club Fulham, and looks to be near 100 percent.
Forward Davies, who was seriously injured in a car accident last October, is still hoping to play in South Africa. Davies has been trying to regain his fitness with his French club Sochaux.
Midfielder Holden has been out of action with his club Bolton in the EPL since he broke his leg playing for the U.S. against Holland in March. The U.S. is expecting Holden to be available for the friendlies at the end of May, leading up to the World Cup in June.
All three players are pivotal, and it looks like they may all be available for Bob Bradley.
It appears as though injured defender Oguchi Onyewu will not be available for the U.S.
4. The Stability of Bob Bradley
Although many countries have a skipper with more experience than that of Bradley, few countries can boast the stability he has brought to the American squad the last four years, post-Bruce Arena.
The players like playing for him and, more importantly, succeed under him. He has developed the U.S.' younger players better than Arena did. It is a strength that may pay dividends in this tournament.
3. Depth (and the Edson Buddle factor)
The Americans are actually one of the deeper squads in the tournament, although injuries may end up negating that advantage. Several quality choices will be available to Bob Bradley.
One of these players may be current leading scorer in the MLS, Edson Buddle of the L.A. Galaxy. Bradley probably had no intention of having Buddle on his squad as recently as a month ago, but the incredible start the 28-year-old has had this year for the Galaxy has no doubt given Bob reason to reconsider.
Buddle, who has had only 1 cap with the U.S. and that came about seven seven years ago, has scored nine goals in eight games for L.A. this year. He scored the first seven goals for the Galaxy, the first player in MLS history to do that for his team.
Buddle could be a nice 65 or 70 minute option in a game that the U.S. needed a goal in. He will definitely get a look at the friendlies later this month.
2. America's Best Player is Playing the Best Soccer of His Career
Landon Donovan, the leader of the U.S. team, is playing his most confident soccer ever. The 28-year-old has used his successful loan earlier in the year at Everton FC to build his confidence to a level we haven't seen in him before. He currently leads the MLS in assists and has led his team to an unbeaten start through eight games, seven of those wins.
The U.S.' all-time leader in goals and assists, Donovan has more world class and big game experience than anyone on the club. His over 120 caps are the most among active players for the U.S.
He is as important to the U.S. as any one player in this tournament is to any country. As Landon goes, so goes the Americans. The promising thing is, he's going very well right now.
1 A World Class Keeper
Tim Howard may be the Americans' ace in the hole. There may not be more than five better keepers in the world right now. Many of the clubs ahead of the U.S. in the World Rankings right now do not have the solid goalkeeping that the U.S. has with Howard.
Group C nemesis England, for example, still doesn't know their final keeper choice, and whoever it ends up being won't be as strong as Howard.
With a little help from his friends (mainly the U.S. defense), Howard could lead the Americans deep into this tournament.