Most casual sports fans might not know this, but at one time during World Cup qualifying, the United States' place in South Africa looked uncertain. The Americans were beaten soundly by Costa Rica and Mexico on the road, sandwiched between a win against Honduras.
Sure there was a very good chance the US would advance to the World Cup, but things looked scary if the national team did not play like they can in qualification games. The Stars and Stripes not only made the World Cup, but also secured first place in the fourth round of qualifying.
The US needed to come from behind to earn a draw with Costa Rica. After giving up two early first half goals, the Yanks scored two late goals, the last by Jonathan Bornstein in extra time.
This team raised expectations on itself by their play in the 2009 Confederations Cup. The US finished second in their group, tied with Italy and behind Brazil.
Using the third tie breaker, most goals scored in group play, the US advanced to the semifinals after being tied with the Azzurri at two points apiece. A major test awaited the Yanks in their semifinal matchup against Spain.
That is when the US shocked the soccer world by defeating Spain 2-0 on an early goal by Jozy Altidore and an insurance goal by Clint Dempsey. The win gave the Stars and Stripes their first FIFA tournament final.
Awaiting the Americans in that final was Brazil, who beat the US 3-0 in the group state. That did not stop the US from trying to shock the world again by taking and first half lead of 2-0.
The second half of the final saw the real Brazil team show up, as they scored three unanswered goals to win the match 3-2. For the Brazilians, Luís Fabiano with two goals and Lúcio with the game winner were the heroes.
This run set up great expectations for the United States in the 2010 World Cup. Not only would advancing to the second round seem possible, but a deep run looks possible as well.
Further fueling this speculation was the draw. After the draw for the groups was announced in December of 2009, many US fans were happy to be in the same group as England, which is Group C.
Fans cited a 1-0 win over the Three Lions in the 1950 World Cup, which makes the US’s opening round match one of the most anticipated of the tournament. Also, being drawn in a group with Algeria and Slovenia made many fans and commentators feel good about the Americas chances of advancing to the second round.
There is no question that the US could advance to the second round, but England and the rest of the group will not be pushovers. England was undefeated in European qualifying, until being beat by the Ukraine after they had clinched their spot in South Africa.
Algeria defeated the highest ranked African team, Egypt, in a playoff to earn their spot in the 2010 World Cup. Egypt is ranked 12th and was expected to make this tournament.
Slovenia upset a favored Russian team in a playoff in European qualifying and they play sound soccer. The good news is that this is first World Cup for Slovenia since their split from Yugoslavia in 1991.
If the US is able to navigate this group and advance, a deep run does not seem very possible. While I wish the US team well, a trip past the second round seems a long shot.
If the US is unable to win their group and finish in second place, a date with Germany will more than likely await them in the second round. Even with the injury to Michael Ballack the Germans have enough talent to dispatch the US national team.
If the US is able to win their group, a second round match against either Australia or Serbia would await them. Winning Group C is the Americans best chance of getting past the second round.
Still, a victory in the second round would not guarantee a deep run in this tournament. Mainly because powerhouse teams such as Brazil, Greece, Uruguay, Chile, Italy, Argentina, Netherlands, and Portugal will be lurking about in the later rounds of the tournament.
Sure the win over Spain was monumental, but Spain has not had much tournament success expect for the 2008 European Championship. It seems to have added pressure to this US team and their expectations in the 2010 World Cup.
Since qualifying for Italy in 1990, the US has not missed a World Cup. A disturbing trend develops if you look at the results of those world cups.
The Yanks failed to make it past the group stage in 1990, then in 1994 the US made the round of 16 on home soil. That was followed by a Round One exit in France in 1998, but a quarterfinals run in 2002 at South Korea and Japan.
In the last World Cup in Germany in 2006, the US made an early exit failing to get past the group stage. A second round trip seems assured and should be attained.
The bigger step for the US would not be making a deep run in this tournament, but qualifying for Brazil in 2012 and not being bounced in the in the first round of this tournament.
The US can become a soccer power, if the team can become a fixture in the round of 16 in every tournament. American can then build upon those trips to the second round and focus on becoming a fixture in the quarterfinals and semifinals.
After that, a World Cup championship would not be out of the question, but more realistically expected. A deep run in this World Cup would be nice and is quite possible.
Making the second round in Brazil when the tournament travels to South America in 2012 would be the bigger accomplishment. Otherwise, the US National Team is just spinning its wheels.