The interesting fact about the U.S. World Cup squad is that its coach Bob Bradley is still experimenting with the team, even at this, the 11th hour. Some of the players, such as Edson Buddle, Robbie Findley, Jose Torres aand Herculez Gomez, that as recently as a couple of months ago were not even considered by most as likely inclusions in the World Cup squad have made the the final 23-men roster.
Last friendly vs. Turkey
Jose Torres and Robbie Findley, the inclusions of whom was somewhat a surprise to many who follow the team on a regular basis, really impressed me and made a huge impact in the second half. Findley pushed the Turkish defense back with his speed, thus creating more space for Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey to work their magic.
Findley just needs to get his head up when running with the ball. He scares the defenders with his speed and one-on-one skills, but seems to be somewhat blind to where his teammates are. There were a few times when he totally ignored open teammates after making great individual runs.
Having said that, Findley’s perfectly weighted ball to Donovan (who then passed it to Jozy Altidore for the first U.S. goal of the match) was a thing of beauty. Robbie may still be the closest thing the U.S. has to Charlie Davies, who would have undoubtedly been one of the starting strikers had it not been for that tragic car accident.
Jose Torres was extremely impressive to me after he came on for the second half, as he basically ran the game from central midfield. In fact, he was so impressive that I now think that, perhaps, he should start alongside a defensive midfielder (either Bradley’s son Michael, Maurice Edu or Ricardo Clark). Torres was very calm on the ball, while displaying good vision and great distribution. My worry is that Bradley will choose to be really conservative and try to pack the midfield with ball winners instead of creative players, leaving no open spot for Torres.
Strong Midfield and Goalkeeping
Overall, the U.S. has some good options in midfield. They have creative players like Torres, Benny Feilhaber, Landon Donovan and Stuart Holden, as well as good ball winners in the likes of Bradley, Edu and Clark. They make midfield the Americans’ strongest position, other than goal.
There they have one the best goalkeepers in the world, Tim Howard, backed up by the experienced Marcus Hahnemann and an up-and-coming Brad Guzan, all of whom ply their trade in the English Premier League (EPL).
Major Concerns on Defense
My main concern is the defense, which has looked rather scary in the pre-World Cup friendlies.
There have been fitness concerns over Oguchi Onyewu and the absolutely shambolic performances of Jonathan Bornstein. I’m still not entirely sure how the latter hasn’t played himself off the squad, and it is my hope that he will not see any action in South Africa. A cone presents more of a challenge to get around, and he also looks to be in a constant state of panic when on the ball, resulting in some woeful giveaways near his own penalty area.
Lack of International Experience Upfront
Upfront is also an area of concern as the American strikers do not possess either the pedigree or any World Cup experience.
Clint Dempsey, with one short lived appearance at the last World Cup under his belt, can be used there as he was in the first half versus Turkey, but I am speaking of designated strikers.
Edson Buddle has very little international experience, despite being the hottest striker in the MLS this season (9 goals in 9 starts). Same is true for Robbie Findley and Herculez Gomez.
Jozy Altidore has a little bit more international experience (9 goals in 25 appearances for the full national team), but mainly against relatively weak CONCACAF opposition. Furthermore, his 1 goal in 28 appearances in the EPL, where he was on loan at Hill City this season, is far from impressive.
Sometimes the lack of experience can serve as a positive because the naivete serves well to not think about all the pressure. In turn, this can result in better performances, but it's still a major area of concern.
Hopefully the strong midfield play will overcome those deficiencies, but I don’t expect the U.S. to score many goals. Combined with the defensive frailties I have outlined earlier, which could result in some gift goals for the opposition, this may be a major problem.
Group Opponent Slovenia, the Rodney Dangerfield of World Cup Teams
Lastly, I would like to mention something that has been really bothering me in reading pre-World Cup coverage on both sides of the ocean.
I don’t understand the complete lack of respect for Slovenia.
I saw both of their games against Russia and this is not an also ran in group C. In fact, neither the U.S. or England should be penciling three points against the Slovenians into their columns just yet. It would not, in fact, surprise me one bit if they are one of the teams that advances out of this group.
After all, Slovenia had an impressive European qualifying campaign and prevailed over a strong Russian team in a two game playoff to reach the World Cup.
If the Americans can play at their highest level and get some bounces to go their way they should be able to advance out of the group, most likely as a runner up.
However, fans of the U.S. (as well as England) are overlooking Slovenia at their peril.
In my opinion, Americans' match vs. Slovenia will be a make-or-break game. If the U.S. doesn't perform at their best, it would not be shocking to see them lose, which would in turn make it very difficult for them to advance. So while everyone is focusing on U.S.A.'s marquee matchup versus England, the match against the Slovenians might actually be more important.