An analysis of the US Men's team, matchups and predictions for this year's World Cup
On Friday, the United States Men's soccer team will make its seventh appearance in the World Cup in 70 years. Riding the wave of last World Cup's success, in which the United States outplayed a heavily favored Portuguese team, defeated their continental rivals Mexico in the second round and finally succumbed to the Germans in the quarterfinals, the US hopes to capitalize on a productive off-season and continue their World Cup run. As fate would have it, the United States was drawn into group E, one of the more competitive groupings in the tournament. Comprised of three-time champions Italy, a Czech team ranked second in the world and the dangerous Ghanaian national team, Group E will offer plenty of problems for the US squad.
Anchoring the United State's defense is veteran center back Eddie Pope, wingers Steve Cherundolo and Eddie Lewis and a fourth defender, Oguchi Onyewu, as a second central defender. Pope and Lewis, who have each played in the previous World Cup, should add experience and touch to a defense that allowed only seven goals in five games in the 2002 World Cup. The national team's defense will also be aided this year by the imposing left/right back Oguchi Onyewu. At 6'4 and 210 pounds, Onyewu has dominated qualifying play at the winger position, holding world-class strikers like Mexico's Jared Borgetti scoreless in a September 3 preseason victory. Directing traffic in the back is goalie Kasey Keller, a 15-year veteran of the men's team and a proven clutch keeper.
In the past three years, men's team coach Bruce Arena has added depth and versatility to a midfield lineup that features a balanced mix between young and old talent and defensive and offensive minded players. In his third World Cup appearance, Arena will likely rely on Captain Claudio Reyna, who was sidelined with a hamstring injury two weeks ago, to control possession and work the pace of the game. DaMarcus Beasly, in his second Cup appearance should provide speed to the left flank and open passing options and give-and-goes for forward Landon Donovan. The other two midfield positions are not concrete, even though, from their play in the qualifying rounds, Arena will be looking closely at veterans Eddie Lewis and newcomer Bobby Convey. Other viable options include John O'Brien, who's returned to the United States after playing in the Dutch Premier League, and Clint Dempsey, a promising midfielder who has been building a reputation for himself with the New England Revolution in the past couple of years.
Once again, the American team can boast an exciting offense that, like in the 2002 World Cup, should have the creativity, skill and speed to string together dangerous attacks. Arena will most likely rely on forwards Landon Donovan and Brian McBride to provide the scoring threat that helped amass 16 goals in qualifying play. Donovan is widely considered by critics to be the best player on the American team. With 25 goals in 73 games for the national team, Donovan is always dangerous when the ball is at his feet. His speed, touch and knack for the back of the net make Donovan a wanted commodity in the international soccer market. However, after a season with Bayern Leverkusen in the German Bundasliga, Donovan has returned to the San Jose Earthquakes, which he recently led to an MLS cup this past season. McBride also should not be overlooked as a second scoring threat. McBride may be the hardest-working player on the American team. His constant hustle and ability in the air has paid off: he currently has 29 goals in 89 caps.
Defense: One of the world's best goalies in Petr Cech leads the Czech backfield into the World Cup and against the U.S. attack. He set an FA Premier League record by not allowing a goal for an 871 consecutive-minute span. The Czechs usually play with a three back system featuring (from left to right) Zdenek Grygera, Tomas Ujfalusi and Rene Bolf. This solid trio allowed just 10 goals in 14 World Cup qualifying matches. With Cech between the posts, the US will have a tough time cracking the solid Czech defense.
Midfield: The Czech midfield is one of the best in the world, featuring Tomas Rosicky, Pavel Nedved and Tomas Galasek. Rosicky, was the star of the Czech team during qualifying, scoring a team high six goals including the game-winner against Norway in the playoff that determined which team would make it to Germany. Nedved, a former FIFA World Player of the Year has hinted at retirement, but as long as he is on the field, the Czechs probably have the edge in the midfield. His speed and creativity on the wing should give the U.S. fits. Galasek is the rock of the Czech midfield and is also the team captain. He sacrifices his personal glory for the gain of the team, doing the dirty work in midfield so others can get forward. The U.S. should compete with the Czechs in the midfield but the Czech's talent advantage should help them win the battle in the center of the park.
Forwards: Jan Koller and Milan Baros are both elite strikers that the US defense could have trouble dealing with. At 6 feet 8 inches tall and 227 lbs., Koller is quite a load. Nobody scored more goals than the Czechs in qualifying, and Koller contributed with nine goals of his own. A starter for Borussia Dortmund in the German Bundesliga, Koller is an integral part of the Czech attack. His striking partner, Aston Villa star Milan Baros is a different type of player. Quick with slippery moves, Baros gets in behind defenses with his speed and penetrating runs. The Golden Boot winner at Euro 2004 with five goals to his name, Baros cemented his position as a key player in the Czech scheme.
What to expect: The U.S. will have a tough time winning the midfield battle so they won't have the opportunity to go against the slightly-better-than-average Czech Defense.
Final Score: Czech Republic 2, U.S. 0
Defense: The U.S. faces another team with a stellar defense. Goalie Gianluigi "Gigi" Buffon is just as good as Cech and doesn't let anything easy past him. It will take a well orchestrated U.S. attack to score on him. The Italians play in a 4-5-1 formation, with their four defenders acting as the last line of defense and the first line of offense. The stars of the Italian defense include Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta and Gianluca Zambrotta. Cannavaro and Nesta will anchor the center with Zambrotta keeping things clean on the right side.
Midfield: A mix of flash and hustle characterizes the Italian midfield. The hustle is supplied by Gennaro Gattuso and Mauro German Camoranesi. These two defensive center midfielders link with Nesta and Cannavaro, and feed the ball up to the attacking players. Gattuso and Camoranesi do their jobs well, without glory, but with purpose and vision. Gattuso, the AC Milan midfielder is tough as nails and works hard on defense so his teammates can work their magic on the other side of the ball. Camoranesi, a member of Juventus possesses excellent field vision and is capable of making passes that slice through an opposing defense. In front of these two is Antonio Cassano, a 23-year old wunderkind who breaks down defenses with his slicing runs and raw talent. He's an explosive player who strikes fear in the heart of the opponents. Next to him is Francesco Totti. In the dictionary, under "Italian soccer star" there should be a picture of Totti. A smooth player with a Velcro-like touch on the ball, Totti is arguably Italy's best player. For the U.S. to win the midfield battle over the Italians they will have to outsmart them, because they are behind on the talent meter in the center.
Forwards: Alberto Gilardino leads this line without a doubt. Another youngster at 23, Gilardino has scored 12 goals in 17 games with his club, AC Milan in the 05/06 season. Gilardino should be one of the young stars of the World Cup, and at such a young age we can expect to see him in a few more World Cups. Juventus' Alessandro Del Piero, although aging, remains one of the top strikers for Italy and he could be dangerous if he is in good form.
What to expect: A very solid game is what should be expected. Italy's creative brilliance should be an interesting match for the U.S.'s hustle and drive to prove themselves as a soccer power.
Final Score: Italy 1, US 1
If they want any chance of advancing past the first round, the "black stars" need to bolster their most vulnerable position—defense. Composed of rookies, aging B-league players and other no-names, the Ghanaian defense should benefit from the experience of playing in the World Cup but will still have trouble defending the experienced and highly organized US attack. The Ghanaian defense will be anchored by FC Roma international Samuel Kuffour. The 29 year old Kuffour, who led Roma to a UEFA Cup appearance last year, will have to emerge as a leader in the back. Bottom line: The key to dismantling the Ghanaian defense is possession and an organized attack. If Donovan gets the ball in the box, it's game over.
The Ghanaian team's greatest asset, their midfield, boasts three players with UEFA Cup experience. In Michael Essien, Stephen Appiah and Laryea Kingston, the "black stars" have three veteran players with the speed, power and technical skills that easily rival that of the US midline. Captain Stephen Appiah led Ghana to their first World Cup appearance with key victories against South Africa and Uganda. Appiah is certainly the playmaker on the team, but don't count out Essien, and Kingston as both leaders and scoring threats on the field. Bottom Line: The US should be wary of Ghana's international stars Appiah and Essien. If the US midline can control possession and shut down passing lanes for Appiah, they should be fine.
The Ghanaian offense will likely rely on the skill, speed and goal-scoring ability of striker Matthew Amoah when they take on the U.S. on June 22. Amoah and teammate Adamu Baba Armando are the only two strikers for the "black stars" who play in the more competitive European leagues. Amoah currently plays in the prestigious German Bundesliga and has proved his skill as a scorer by posting four goals in five matches in the qualifying rounds of the World Cup. Bottom Line: Amoah is a skilled striker, but nothing veteran defenders Frankie Hedjuk and Eddie Pope haven't seen before. The U.S. defense needs to watch out for the speed of Ghana's offense.
What to expect: As newcomers to the tournament, the Ghanaian rookies have as much to prove as the US squad did four years ago. Ghana will put up a fight, but in this match, experience wins it.
Final Score: US 3, Ghana 1
Ethan Kuhnhenn. Ethan Kuhnhenn is a junior in the Communication Arts program and is entering his first year as a SCO staff member. When he's not fishing in his new bass boat, you can probably find him at Taco Bell chilling with his best friend, the cheesy … More »
Josh Zipin. Josh Zipin has trouble paying attention for more than three seconds at a time... More »