32 Teams in 32 Days: USA
Each day between May 10 and the day before the start of the 2010 FIFA World Cup on June 11, FoxSoccer.com analyst Jamie Trecker will preview each of the 32 teams playing in South Africa and tell you everything you need to know about each nation represented at the world's greatest sporting event.
Country: United States
Nickname: Pick one. They've been called the "Yanks," "Stars and Stripes," and the "Red, White and Blue."
Britain's American colonies broke with the mother country in 1776 and were recognized as the new nation of the United States of America following the Treaty of Paris in 1783. During the 19th and 20th centuries, 37 new states were added to the original 13 as the country expanded across the North American continent and acquired a number of overseas possessions. The two most traumatic experiences in the nation's history were the Civil War (1861-65) and the Great Depression of the 1930s. Buoyed by victories in World Wars I and II and the end of the Cold War in 1991, the USA remains the world's most powerful nation.
Soccer is another story. Though it has long been one of the more popular recreational sports in America, soccer as a professional sport has had an uphill battle over the past thirty years. The sport has had difficulty gaining attention in a sports culture largely built around "native sports" such as baseball, American football, basketball, and ice hockey. Soccer has also had difficulty breaking through a media culture that lacks real knowledge about the game, and has been quick to condemn the pastime as "foreign."
The USA enjoyed early competitive success on the international stage, in fact pulling off what many sports historians consider one of the greatest upsets in soccer history: handing England a shocking World Cup defeat in 1950, 1-0. However, the glory was short-lived as the USA would not qualify for another World Cup until 1990. Only recently has the world begun to take the U.S. seriously as a soccer-playing nation.
The country's professional soccer league, Major League Soccer (MLS), was formed on December 17, 1993 to fulfill U.S. Soccer's promise to FIFA to establish a "Division One" professional soccer league in exchange for the staging of the FIFA World Cup 1994 in the United States. The league began play in 1996, and though it has experienced a rocky road during its growth -- the league reports that only two franchises make money -- it has now expanded to 16 teams, will add two more (Portland, Vancouver) next year, and a 19th franchise, Montreal, a year later.
PAST WORLD CUP SUCCESS: The USA has qualified for every World Cup since 1990. Its best finish in the modern era was reaching the quarterfinals at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea/Japan. There, the Americans lost to Germany, the eventual runners-up, in a 1-0 thriller that saw the Americans as the better team on the night despite the result (they also finished third in the 1930 World Cup, a smaller invitational tourney organized very differently than the Cup is today). 2006 wasn't as memorable.
REGIONAL SUCCESS: The U.S. was the top dog of CONCACAF until this year, when a resurgent Mexico slaughtered them in the Gold Cup final, 5-0. Right now, it's a toss-up between those two nations, but most would give Mexico a slight edge. The biggest triumph was a second-place finish last year in the Confederations Cup, when they lost, 3-2, to Brazil in the final. Locally, the U.S. has won the Gold Cup four times (1991, 2002, 2005, 2007).
LEAGUE OVERVIEW: MLS is a 16-team league that struggles to get attention. Attendance is moderate compared to other major American sports, and many soccer fans prefer to watch the big European clubs on TV rather than go to see their local team. MLS is successful in certain markets, however: Toronto and Seattle do good business; Los Angeles and Houston are considered solid; and Chicago has been a perennial success despite having a stadium outside city limits. Other markets are near-disastrous. Until the opening of the Harrison, NJ stadium, New York was a joke, and Dallas, Colorado, San Jose and Kansas City are woeful. The league is better than many of its detractors believe, however.
MANAGER: The dour Bob Bradley. An MLS lifer, Bradley was an emergency hire after the USSF lost out on the services of Juergen Klinsmann. He's never really shaken that off. To be fair, he doesn't have the players to form a truly superior side, but his tactics and game plans are very questionable. Under his stewardship, the Americans have often leaked goals, conceded and committed bad fouls, and rarely do more than work hard. It's not good enough for a team that has aspirations of being one of the world's best.
KEY PLAYERS: The two must-have players are attacking midfielders Clint Dempsey (Fulham) and Landon Donovan (L.A. Galaxy). Donovan is the playmaker; Dempsey is the guy capable of game-changing brilliance. Both have had great seasons; Dempsey led his club to the Europa League final while Donovan shined in his short spell at Everton. Both must have great games for the Americans to win. Donovan is more mercurial of the two. Unfortunately, when he plays poorly, the USA usually falls. Tim Howard (Everton) is a great shot-stopper, but actually he's not the country's top 'keeper (that would still be Brad Friedel, at Aston Villa, but he retired from international competition). Howard saves a lot of shots, and he has to, because the guys in front of him tend to be reckless and slow. Jozy Altidore (Villarreal) is probably the guy up top. He had a disappointing year on loan with Hull, but has been good with the nats.
FIFA RANKINGS: 14th. Which is a touch high. Highest ever was 4th (2006, for no reason at all) and lowest was 35th (1997).
FIRST ROUND OPPONENTS: Algeria, England, Slovenia
HEAD TO HEAD AGAINST ALGERIA: The U.S. has never played the Algerians.
HEAD TO HEAD AGAINST ENGLAND: England has a long, winning history against the USA. In nine games, the English have lost just twice, the most recent coming in a 1993 friendly. The last time the sides met, in Chicago in 2008, England walked to a 2-0 win. However, in the only time they've met in the World Cup, the U.S. pulled off a shocking 1-0 win in 1950.
HEAD TO HEAD AGAINST SLOVENIA: They've never met.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED: They finished on top of the CONCACAF Hexagonal, but not in entirely convincing fashion.
PERCENTAGE CHANCE TO PROGRESS: 50%. This is regarded as the easiest draw the U.S. has ever had. If they don't get out of the group, the knives will be out. That said, the Americans are not a complete team, and are one more injury away from collapse. Sadly, they don't have any depth.
TO WATCH: Oguchi Onyewu. Injured most of the season, Onyweu wasn't playing anyway at AC Milan despite a big-money offseason move. How that affects his play is unclear, but it cannot be good. He's become a very reliable central defender. He'll line up against the similarly star-crossed Jay DeMerit, who had to have corneal transplant surgery after a bacterial infection almost robbed him of his sight. DeMerit's vision is still a bit iffy, but these are the best two guys the Americans have in the back.
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Marcus Hahnemann (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Tim Howard (Everton)
Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover), Jay DeMerit (Watford), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Oguchi Onyewu (AC Milan), Jonathan Spector (West Ham)
Midfielders: DaMarcus Beasley (Rangers), Michael Bradley (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Ricardo Clark (Eintracht Frankfurt), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Benny Feilhaber (AGF Aarhus), Stuart Holden (Bolton), Jose Francisco Torres (Pachuca)
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Hull/Villarreal), Edson Buddle (Los Angeles Galaxy), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake), Herculez Gomez (Pachuca)