1930, 1934, 1950, 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010.
Action Images / ReutersMIKE STONE
Key player: Michael Bradley (Toronto FC)
It took a long time for Bradley to get his due, accused as he was of being the beneficiary of nepotism from his father Bob, then the head coach of the national team. But for the last few years, Bradley has plainly been the heart and soul of this team with his tireless toil, tidy distribution and apparent imperviousness to a drop in form.
Action Images / ReutersStephen Lam
Back in 1930, a ragtag band of recently migrated Americans inexplicably reached the semifinals in the first-ever edition of the tournament. But the program hasn’t scaled those heights since. The quarterfinals run in 2002 stands as the modern high watermark, with the United States stranding either in the group stage or Round of 16 in every other appearance.
Getty ImagesBrian Bahr
Jurgen Klinsmann was brought in to lift the American program to a higher level. And it hasn’t been a painless process by any means. Early results were mixed, and the players seemed to grate under the phalanx of changes he instituted -- everything from yoga, to counseling from a nutritionist, to drawing blood to better monitor a player’s progression in performance. Things seemed to come to a head in March 2013, when, after a poor start to qualifying, a Sporting News story quoted a slew of national teamers anonymously, who griped about Klinsmann’s methods, his opaque vision, his scattered communication, the integration of German-born players, and a few other things. The team struggled, at first, to adapt to the more up-tempo style Klinsmann prescribed. Consequently, the system now is more of a mix of the possession-oriented attacking soccer Klinsmann had aspired to and the old physical and counter-punching mindset Americans had made their name on.
Action ImagesLee Smith
How they got here
The third qualifying stage was far more arduous than it should have been, given the weakness of the opposition. The hexagonal round started off inauspiciously, too, with a 2-1 road loss to Honduras. But hard-fought results against Costa Rica and in Mexico put the campaign back on track and ultimately made for a comfortable qualification.
Getty ImagesJamie Sabau
A brutal for the Americans to say the very least. Statistically, there was something like a 1-in-8,000 chance that the USA would draw the worst possible group they could, yet that’s what they got. Their fellow residents in Group G are a murderer’s row of opponents. Germany are one of the favorites for the tournament and knocked the USA out in the 2002 quarterfinals. Portugal are dangerous outsiders for the title. And Ghana, Africa’s best side by some distance, bounced the USA from the group stage in 2006 and the Round of 16 in 2010. That’s a lot of talent, and demons, for the Americans to overcome.
Getty ImagesBuda Mendes
Round of 16 prospects
Manageable. Group H, which will produce the Americans’ opponents, should they advance, holds Belgium, Algeria, Russia and the Korea Republic. If they avoid the Belgians, who are inexperienced but very talented, any other opponent should offer up a game the Yanks can win, matching their 2002 performance of reaching the quarterfinals.
The requisite talent to reach the Round of 16 is probably there -- but barely, a single injury to Bradley, say, or Clint Dempsey, could derail everything. And a savage draw doesn’t help matters. Should they survive, they’ll be competitive in the next round. But there, too, their chances will largely be dictated by who they play.