World Cup 2010: USA's Performance, Limitations and Potential for Brazil

Mary O'SheaSenior Writer IJuly 19, 2010

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 24:  Landon Donovan of USA speaks during a press conference at Irene Farm on June 24, 2010 in Irene south of Pretoria, South Africa.  United States will play their second round 2010 World Cup match against Ghana on Saturday, June 26, 2010, at Royal Bafokeng Stadium in Rustenburg, South Africa.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

It's been just over a week since we waved goodbye to South Africa and World Cup 2010 as Spain took the coveted golden trophy back to the streets of Madrid.

While the superpowers of France, England and Italy were derided for their poor outings, minnows like New Zealand were been celebrated for putting it up to the big boys. The question is, where do you put the USA?

In economic and social terms, America is a superpower, but in world football terms they aren't up there with the best of the best. However, they are also far off from being labelled minnows.

The USA occupies that space in-between greatness and "shouldn't you just be glad to be here?" at World Cups.

There are three tiers featured in the World Cup: those expected to challenge (Brazil, Spain, Italy, France, England, Argentina), those expected to be happy for the experience (New Zealand, North Korea, China, Saudi Arabia) and those who expect to qualify, who give a good showing, but inevitably exit in and around the quarter-finals. (Mexico, Paraguay, Rep.Ireland, Croatia).

Presently, USA finds itself in the third group. They expect to qualify, they give as good as they get but aren't expected to win. So went South Africa 2010 for Team USA.


Looking Back At World Cup 2010

Paired with England, Algeria and Slovenia, the USA were expected to fight it out with Algeria and Slovenia for the second spot as England cruised through the group. No need to remind people that is not what happened.

In the opening game, America easily negated the weak England threat to secure a well-earned draw, albeit via some nightmare goalkeeping from Rob Green.

Against Fabio Capello's side, and indeed throughout the tournament, Bob Bradley opted for a basic 4-4-2 formation, which was based on physique over technique. Up front he paired the big, hulking forward with the light, speedy sidekick. 

This worked a wonder against England's over-hyped center back pairing of John Terry and Jamie Carragher. While Jozy Altidore's game may be similar to Emile Heskey's in its thinking, in its operation, Altidore's speed gives him a distinct advantage. Against England, he used this to create space for the two wide players, Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, from which they greatly benefited. 

The next game against Slovenia saw the classic game of two halves: 2-0 down at half-time. America would have finished the game winners were it not for some horrific refereeing.

This was followed by a 1-0 win over Algeria at the death to secure top spot and a meeting with Ghana in the round of 16, where the USA finally exited.

It was in these games (and not that against England) where we saw the massive pros and cons in America's game.

America's coach Bob Bradley has been applauded and derided in equal measure by the media.

His reading of the game and willingness to react to events is laudable. However, the question must be asked as to why he needs to react in the first place as the mistakes seem to be of his own making.

Against Slovenia, he started the more cultured Jose Torres over the workmanlike Ricardo Clarke, which saw the USA conceding control of midfield and going 2-0 down. It was only when Bradley brought on the combative Maurice Edu for Torres that the game swung in their favour.

Bradley again opted for the more combative pairing of Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark in midfield against the physical Ghanaian side. It worked for a time and kept America in the game until extra-time when they were simply overpowered by the numbers running from deep.

Ghana themselves packed the midfield in an attempt to curb the threat of Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan. It worked as the winning goal came from a long ball. The running and physicality of Asamoah Gyan was too much for the American defence.

This World Cup has thought us many things about America.

Although it will be a work in progress. The USA will have to strive get technically better to execute tactics properly. In football, sheer power and athleticism can't be relied upon to beat opponents, as (opening myself to heavy criticism) seems to be the ethos of many American sports.

One thing is for certain, and that is America will not give up. Three times in this World Cup they came back from a deficit and eventually only succumbed to Ghana.


Potential for Brazil

Talking about something four years down the line is often fruitless, but in football one eye has always got to be kept on the future. In regards to America, it often feels like footballing people are always talking about a nation on the brink of success, and thus it still seems.

While the MLS is still open to criticism, the American national team has come on leaps and bounds in the last 20 years. Nothing happens overnight, and the USA needs to continue on its upward progression.

The country is never short on goalkeepers, and for Brazil the stable, if not outstanding, Tim Howard may well be still between the posts.

In defence there is the evidently talented Oguchi Onyewu, who will only get better at reading the game over the next four years with AC Milan. He may well be joined by the up and coming defensive talents like Omar Gonzalez, Kevin Alston and Sean Franklin.

Midfield will no doubt still be under the guidance of Michael Bradley, who showed in South Africa (both at the Confederations Cup and World Cup) that he is not on the team sheet because of his father.

Bradley Jr has grown up immensely over the last few seasons, and with more tactical discipline, he can become a real box-to-box midfielder.

Up front, Charlie Davies and Jozy Altidore will continue to stake their claim to appear in Brazil.

It is hard to give any indication as to how America will shape up in Brazil. Question marks remain over Bob Bradley's tenure as coach, while key positions in the starting XI will be waiting on youth and potential before being filled.

America is on the right track. Of that there is no doubt.

They are continually qualifying for the World Cup and giving a good account of themselves. Rome wasn't built in a day, and World Cups don't come about easily or quickly - just ask Spain!

Besides, you don't have to be the best team in the world to win a World Cup. You just need to be the best team during a set month of football.