The World Cup starts today and the USA plays its first game on Monday vs Ghana. Although I follow Arsenal and the US team every 4 years for the World Cup, I didn’t know much about this US team until 3 weeks ago when the pre-tournament friendlies started.
For the last 3 weeks I have been adding interesting news, information and media to this post. Below you’ll find an introduction to the USMNT team, player bios, potential lineups, answer to the Donovan question, iPhone backgrounds, and fan songs/chants.
Introduction to the US Men’s National Team
Since the last World Cup, the USA team has signed a new manager named Jurgen Klinssman (JK). JK won the World Cup with Germany in 1996 and has since gone on to coach the German team as well as Bayern Munich. After a quick firing from Bayern US Soccer persuaded him to coach his beloved USA (his wife is American and his kids play on the USA Youth Team). Quite simply, he has reshaped all aspects of international competition in the US. So much so that is he now the Director of Football as well as the coach of the Men’s National Team.
JK has famously stated many times that the way a team plays should be a reflection of the culture. The Germans play a hardworking, efficient game. The Brazilian’s incorporate the samba into their “Joga Bonito” style. So what defines the Unites States of America? First and foremost, we are a mix of cultures. We also value that with a bit of talent and a lot hardwork anyone can do anything. By far the biggest impact JK has made has been his scouting and recruitment of international talent. Let me be clear though, these are players with USA passports. Born to American parents abroad or born in the USA at a young age. Whether it be German (a lot of Germans) or Icelandish, or Norwedish, we are all American and do not buy into the stories about this team not being “American enough”.
The other cultural element this team brings is a heart. There’s no other way to describe a player making a 70 yard run simply to cover a team mate after losing the ball. This will not be a team that dives. This will not be a team that complains about offside. No one better quantifies that better than Bradley, a hardworking midfielder who speaks several languages and we’ll go into more later.
Let me put on my Project Manager hat and define success for this team. Although JK got heat for saying “We cannot win this World Cup”, he’s absolutely right. The USA quality of play has been improving but is no where close to Brazil, the favorites to win on home soil.
In an unheard of move, US Soccer has already given JK a contract extension to the next world cup in 2018, so success this time around is to not lose to Ghana, and hope for a point from the other two games. Yes, 2 measly points would be considered a decent World Cup.
That said, I believe we will get out of the “Group of Death”, which includes Germany, Portugal and Ghana, the hardest group to get out of in the whole tournament. Here’s how it will happen.
First, we will win our first game against Ghana, who remarkably has knocked the USA out of the previous 2 World Cups. Can not be under-stated how big the first game will be for the USA. I suggest you take the day off, I know I will! Hopefully Germany beats Portugal, which would allow a draw vs Portugal to make advancing possible on goal differential. I personally believe that JK knows the German team well enough to get a fun 2-2 draw out of the third game and guarantee advancing with 5 points. If we do get 2nd in the group it’s likely we’ll face Belgium, and my prediction is the USA will win that game then lose to Argentina. Then again, I’m probably letting all this freedom blind me.
Player Previews: The Stars
If you follow soccer a bit you probably know these names. These are the big players, the ones we know will start and the players the formation is built around.
Tim Howard: One of the best goalkeepers in the world, this is a position the USA does well in and we’ll need Timmy to come up big to get us out of the group.
Michael Bradley: A “box to box” midfielder who can do it all. Born in New Jersey and son of famous American coach Bob (coach of US team in 2010), played in the MLS by 16, and in Europe by 19. After bouncing around clubs in Europe came back to the MLS for one of the biggest deals in MLS history. He provides “the engine” for the team and you’ll see his bald head everywhere on the field.
Clint Dempsey: Quite simply the best USA soccer player today. After playing for sub-par EPL team Tottenham (bias noted) he is now the top paid player in the MLS. He’s also a baller. Great quote last World Cup was the Coach’s response to what makes him special? “He tries shit”. Like this for instance:
Jozy Altidore: The best forward we have and best hold up player we have maybe ever had. The modern game requires a strong physical player to hold the ball after a clearance and then distribute to on-running teammates. But it also requires the main forward to score goals and Jozy has not had a good year after 2 goals in the entire EPL campaign at Sunderland. That said, he has looked great in a USMNT jersey including scoring 2 in his final game vs Nigeria.
Player Previews: The Stripes: I’ll be honest, those were the only 4 players I really knew well on this team. Here are the others I have learned the most about and that will make an impact.
DaMarcus Beasley (Timothy Chandler): Formally a left midfielder, recently moved back to defense. Is quick and plays well to the counter attacking mindset of this team. There’s a chance Timmy Chandler could play here too, but I think the spot is Beasley’s.
Matt Besler (pronounced BEE-SLER): Amazingly, Matt played with Bradley growing up and here they are, on the World’s stage together. A defender who did all the right things given his opportunities. Played at Notre Dame (All American), then the MLS (All Star) and finally USMNT.
Geoff Cameron (Omar Gonzalez): Another example of a US player who worked hard to get here. After playing on several lower level college teams followed by the semi-pro USL was eventually drafted into the MLS at 23. Four years later was brought over to Stoke City in the EPL playing a myriad amount of positions. A true utilitan player who can play anywhere, but has found himself at center of the defense with Besler.
Fabian Johnson: A perfect example of the JK era. Son of an American serviceman and dual citizen (German & USA) you will hear a lot about the German influence on this USA team. A right back doesn’t usually offer the excitement of a forward or a midfield player, but I can guarantee Johnson will be one of the best players on the field. He will offer an extra dimension to the attack while providing cover.
Kyle Beckerman: I look forward to his movie. Part of the 1994 World Cup as a ball boy he looked at his mom afterwards and said “I am going to play in the World Cup for the USA.” He went on to play a key part in the influential youth system known as “Nike Project-40”, which discovered the best players in the USA including Landon Donovan. Things didn’t always go well and he worked hard in the reserves on various MLS teams before finding himself at Real Salt Lake. Within 6 months was team captain and the youngest player to earn 200 games and an MLS Cup. Kyle may not be a Real Madrid star but he has played consistent football for several years while somehow being neglated by USMNT coaches. His dream is here and now.
Jermain Jones: Important to remember that it was former coach Bob Bradley who saw in Jones a talented German American, well before JK. Born to an American overseas father, living in Illnois before returning to Germany at 13, Jermain is as much American as he is German. An energetic player who reminds me of Ozil, but the opposite between creativity and defensibility. They share their Germany work ethic, but whereas Ozil bring his Turkish creativity, Jones brings a level of American heart. You’ll see him behind Bradley or anywhere else on the pitch that needs clean up work.
Alejandro Bedoya: Born in New Jersey and growing up in Florida, Bedoya left college and immediately looked elsewhere. Found a home in Sweden, then a big move to Rangers who fell on financial trouble. After a brief stint back to the Swedish Champions, he moved to newly promoted French Team Nantes, where he became a fan favorite (see video below).
Graham Zusi: Two time NCAA winner and drafted in 2009 by Kansas City. Although a consistent MLS All Star has not found a spot on the UMSNT until JK took over. A player who plays on the right side of midfield and while providing defensive cover plays great through balls and crosses. Also has slicked back hair.
Brad Davis: Let’s be brutally honest: Brad has a left foot. A monster of a left foot, but only a left foot regardless. He grew up in Missouri, played at the very highest level in the Nation (USA Freshmen of the Year, All American, MLS MVP Finalist, etc), and a very long MLS career in which he has honed his crossing and set piece play very well. JK sees him as an attacking threat on the left side if need be.
Mix Diskerud: Hands down, my favorite player I had never heard of. Every time you see the guy this is his face (below, notice the flowing hair, very important part of his game). Mix was born in Norway, his mom is from Arizona and he said “first come, first serve” for who ever wants to play him first for international play. He’s doing well in the Norway league and almost moved to Portland Timbers but stayed in Norway and lost in the cup final this year. I watched a bunch of videos, he looks a real talent, and fuck ya I’d choose him over Landon. He’s young, energetic and a more modern footballer. While Diskerud was playing for Norway, United States U-20 coach Thomas Rongen approached him, as he was preparing to take a corner, and asked if he had an American passport, to which Diskerud answered, “yes”, he was signed soon thereafter.
Chris Wondolowski (Wondo): What a man, a true MLS journeyman has worked through the ranks and found himself top scorer in the MLS for several seasons. Not the fastest or the best player on the team, but finds himself in the right place at the right time. A natural “poacher”.
Aron Johannsson: Was born in Mobile, Alabama, moved to Iceland at 3 (listening to him say Mobile, Alabama is amazing). Spent a few years Denmark then following Altitore at AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch League scoring 23 goals. Fast and young brings the opposite of Wondo.
Julian Green: 19 year old forward, unlikely to play much and an investment for the future.
One big advantage this team brings to Brazil is a myriad collection of formations they can play. You’ll hear a lot about the “diamond” formation which as you see below is a reliance on 4 midfielders playing together in the middle of the field.
The problem with this formation though is that it constricts Bradley to not move too far forward, as well as limiting Jones movement as well. Instead JK tried something kind of crazy vs Nigeria by stacking the middle with both Beckerman and Jones (both defensive midfielders) and effectively not playing with a left midfield player. The result worked, allowing Bradley to dictate the game and is something we’ll likely see in Brazil.
The Donovan Snub
So what about Landon Donovan? Most goals in the World Cup by an American, celebrated across over a decade as the best American soccer player, maybe ever. Why didn’t he make the team? Well, there is an easy answer which is that he just wasn’t playing that well. There were questions over his fitness, which I think are ridiculous. Also ideas about how he mixed with the coach and what would happen if the USA didn’t win the first game and he was on the bench. Would that be toxic and easier to just not have him there? Regardless, he probably has the best ‘This is SportsCenter’ video:
Songs & Chants
The USA fan base has come a long way from the “USA! USA! USA!” chants of yesteryear. The American Outlaws are the largest USMNT supporters organization and if you can, I highly recommend watching any of the USA games at one of their official bars
. Another good place to find a bar is using Fanatic
. Here are two of my favorite songs that you’ll be hearing the next few weeks.
I BELIEVE! - This one gives me chills. Alejandro Bedoya plays for French team Nantes and after one of his best games where he scored the winner he goes into the crowd and leads his favorite USA chant. This is epic.
Some Celebrities got into the act too:
WE FOLLOW! - My favorite American Outlaws song, I’ll be whistling this most of the month. “We love ya, We love ya, we love ya, where you go we’ll follow, we’ll follow, we’ll follow. ‘cuz we support the US, the US, the US, and that’s the way we like it, we like it, we like it….WHOOOOOAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH”
WE BRING THE NOISE! - Not exactly kid friendly but one of the best moments I had in 2010 and will be even better in 2014.
Just in case you aren’t excited for the cup yet, here’s the best ad so far, remarkably not from Nike or Adidas, but from Beats by Dre:
Of the main brands, I like Adidas’s ad the best:
Lastly, some iPhone Backgrounds
Thanks for the feedback everyone! Adding in Jon Oliver’s video because it’s great.
Got a few questions about Apps that I like using. The ESPNFC app is pretty good
for scores alerts and news, and you of course need the Watch ESPN
to watch all the games. Yes, every single game can be streamed online or on your iPhone or iPad. Works pretty well! The FIFA app
isn’t too shabby, but my favorite dedicated app is a little known app called simply “USA World Cup 2014
Hope you enjoyed this preview! If there is something that is missing that you would like to see, please let me know.