Although still seeking respect on the global stage, the United States have in the past decade firmly established themselves as the powerhouse of CONCACAF. This year’s Confederations Cup is a golden opportunity to show the side’s progress since the 2006 World Cup, when the US crashed out in the group stage.
The US have been drawn into Group B, the more difficult of the two pools, with Brazil, Italy and Egypt. Against Brazil, the US have won only once in 13 games, losing the other 12. They have never beaten Italy, although they have three draws, including one in their last meeting, at the 2006 World Cup. They lost their only match with Egypt, 3-1, in 1987.
There is talk that the US will take a weakened side to South Africa, choosing instead to focus on the 2009 Gold Cup. But that remains to be seen. Arguably, it would be foolish not to take the full squad and gain valuable experience against top-flight competition ahead of the 2010 World Cup.
How they got here: 2007 Gold Cup Champions
The US beat Mexico 2-1 in the 2007 Gold Cup final to win their fourth CONCACAF championship. The game took place in Chicago, and the Mexicans took the lead through Andres Guardado just before half-time. Then US striker Landon Donovan evened things up from the penalty spot in the 62nd minute before Benny Feilhaber completed the come-from-behind win with a stunning volley in the 73rd minute.
Coach: Bob Bradley
The former boss at MLS sides Chicago, New York and Chivas USA, Bradley was hired as head coach of the US in December 2006. Since then, he has posted a record of 23 wins, 3 draws and 8 losses.
The US squad includes a mix of Europe-based stars and Major League Soccer players who are largely unknown outside of their own country. Lacking the mercurial talent of some of their gold-plated opponents, the style of play relies on disciplined positioning and build-up through the midfield.
Led by Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard, the US defence is their strength. In front of Howard are US captain Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes) and the monstrous Oguchi Onyewu (Standard Liege), who over the past two years have gelled into one of the most consistent centre-back pairings in the world.
The relatively young midfield will certainly feature the coach’s 21-year old son, Michael Bradley (Borussia Moenchengladbach). In recent months, he has been paired with 23-year-old Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), and they have meshed well during the current 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign. However, the elder Bradley could also start Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado Rapids) to give the side more experience in the middle. World Cup veterans DaMarcus Beasley (Rangers) and Clint Dempsey (Fulham) usually line up on the flanks. The midfield corps could also include the enigmatic Freddy Adu (Monaco), Mexican-American up-and-comer Jose Francisco Torres (Pachuca), and tough-tackling Ricardo Clark (Houston Dynamo).
Up front, the US lacks depth, but that doesn’t mean there is no firepower. Landon Donovan (Bayern Munich/Los Angeles Galaxy) spearheads the attack, able to use his speed to get in behind an opponent’s back line or take on defenders one-on-one. He is often paired with Hawaiian targetman Brian Ching (Houston Dynamo), who has 9 goals in 33 internationals but more often does the thankless hold-up work.
However, this tournament could be a coming out party for young Jozy Altidore (Xerez). The 19-year-old, purchased by Spanish side Villarreal for $10 million last summer, is full of potential and now needs to come through on the big stage.
Rising Star: Michael Bradley
Still just 21, the Borussia Moenchengladbach holding midfielder has become a beast in the centre of the field for the Yanks. Like a young Michael Ballack, he is steady with the ball at his feet, unafraid of a hard tackle and loves to jump into the attack. Bradley scored two goals in the US’s 2-0 win over Mexico in a World Cup qualifier in February.
Confederations Cup History
1992 – Semi-Finalists
2003 – Group Stage
Placed in the tougher of the two groups, the US’s chances of advancing to the semi-finals do not look good. However, Bradley’s side is beginning to gel, becoming more of a unit with every match. They have had a successful start to 2010 World Cup qualifying, and if they arrive in South Africa with their confidence — and, equally important, a heap of defensive discipline — they could surprise their more vaunted foes.
Greg Lalas, Goal.com