Sam's nation is an ever growing American epidemic. ESPN has made sure Americans will catch World Cup fever. America hosted the World Cup in 1994, when the country new little about the sport. That squad made it to the knockout stage and gave Americans a taste of what was to come. Their breakout party came in 2002 when they made the quarter-finals. It was followed by disappointment in 2006 where they failed to reach the knockout round. Then the team surprised the world in 2009 by beating Spain and reaching the finals of Confederations Cup where they lost to Brazil. And what better way for the Americans to start the tournament then with a match against archrival England. Sporting jerseys to commemorate their 1950 upset of England, the Yanks will be marching into South Africa ready to do it again.
The Americans will be led by a new coach into South Africa. The Bruce Arena era is over and the Bob Bradley era has begun. Ever since taking over the team, Bradley has put young players onto the American squad. Many expected former German coach Jurgen Klinsman to take over the Americans and were surprised to see Bradley named head coach. The former college and MLS coach has taken the team to a new level despite some criticism.
The Yanks had to be happy in December when the draw came out. Drawn to Group C with England, Slovenia and Algeria, the expectations are high and almost everyone believes the Americans should advance to the second round.
When it came time to make the roster cut to 30 men, Bradley was forced with a difficult decision. He had to determine whether or not up and coming striker Charlie Davies would be ready to go after a devastating car accident last fall. Ultimately, Bradley decided to cut Davies and go with a rather inexperianced group of strikers. Bradley's only sure pick was Jozy Altidore, but he also decided to add Eddson Buddle, Hercules Gomez and Robbie Findley to the squad, all of whom only had 4 previous caps combined. This left Brian Ching out of the line-up, but the move seems to have worked for Bradley, as all three strikers have been impressive in matches leading up to the World Cup.
Landon Donovan will be the big name on the roster and will have a lot of expectations. Donovan can play up top, but will most likely play as an outside mid. Donovan is the face of American soccer, the leading goal scorer in US history and a driving force behind a reguvinated American attack. He will be joined in the midfield by his fellow wingman Clint Dempsey. Dempsey has proven he can score goals in big games. Bob Bradley's son, Michael Bradley, will be holding down the midfield with Ricardo Clark. They both will need to be on their game to matchup with the English superstars Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard. Another surprise may be Damarcus Beasley's addition to the squad who should be a great playmaker off of the bench.
There have been many questions when it comes to the American defense. Oguchi Onyewu has been injured and hasn't played a full game for almost a year. Carlos Boncanegra suffered a sports hernia but should be fit for the tournament. And the Americans have always struggled to find good outside backs. Charles Goodson has come on to the squad late and had some solid runs out of the back while playing center back. The Americans will need Onyewu to be fit as they will need him to contain world class striker Wayne Rooney against the English.
One position that will be a sure bet in the tournament for the Americans will be goalkeeper. Tim Howard will be one of the best keepers in the tournament after a great season with Everton. Tim Howard not only has the talent needed for a world class keeper, his vocal leadership is a driving force in his success.
Anticipation for the USA vs. England match is ever looming as the match draws ever closer. England is a country that lives and breathes football and would be calling for Capello's head if they were to lose to the Americans. Even with the talent of the Yanks, the Brits are the heavy favorites. Then there are the few outsiders who believe this match will be similar to the Americans upset of Portugal in the 2002 World Cup.
Soccer is America's number one youth sport, yet many talented players don't stick with it and move on to other more traditional American sports. World Cup success is the only thing that might establish a stronger fan base. Popularity has grown immensely however since the nation hosted the tournament in '94. The US held the top spot for ticket sales in South Africa, a sign that the sport is finally catching on. With the possibility of hosting in 2018 or 2022, a strong national side entering the World Cup and ESPN's great coverage of the tournament has pumped the country up about the team and has surely given the sport some more popularity.
A nation that is finally catching on to the world's most popular sport has a great opportunity in South Africa. They have a chance to prove that the 2002 World Cup and 2009 Confederations Cup was not a fluke. They have a chance to prove that the 2006 World Cup didn't set a growing football nation back one bit. But most importantly, the Americans have a chance to prove they belong in a sport they have never dominated in and will be supported by millions of soccer crazed Yanks back at home.
Many fans were disappointed when Bob Bradley won the job over Jurgen Klinsman. Bradley hasn't done much to disappoint in his tenure and a showing in the quarter or semi finals will have all doubters believing in Bradley.
The most recognizable player on the US squad, Donovan appears to be at his peak. This will be his third World Cup and the younger players may look to him for guidance. His experience will surely help the Americans and if he has a good tournament, some major European clubs will surely come calling.
One of the underrated players not only on the US squad, but in the world. Dempsey has proved he can score key goals in big games and like Donovan, is very versatile in the fact that he can play in the midfield or up top.
The future of American soccer will play in his first World Cup and it surely won't be his last. Altidore will be the main goal scorer for the Americans in South Africa.
The Everton goalkeeper is one of the best in the world and may have to showcase his talents against some stronger opposition.
Questions loom over whether the center back will be fit for the tournament We have seen him play in friendlies but have yet to see him go the full 90.
2010 World Cup Schedule:
United States vs. England, Rustenburg, South Africa, June 12th
United States vs. Slovenia, Johanesburg, South Africa, June 18th
United States vs. Algeria, Pretoria, South Africa, June 23rd
Group A Predictions