Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Mon 8 March 2010

32 for 2010: USA

We're now a quarter of the way through our 32 for 2010 series looking at the teams that have qualified for the World Cup in South Africa this summer. To mark the occasion, we've set our resident Football Americana writer and brains behind TwoFootedTackle Chris Nee the job of giving you his own personal profile of the USA team...

England supporters will be keeping an eager eye on the USA as World Cup 2010 approaches. Bob Bradley's side were something of an unknown outfit before last summer's FIFA Confederations Cup, where impressive performances against Spain and Brazil repaired the damage of a poor start and brought the Americans crashing back into the English footballing psyche. And wouldn't you just know it, England and the US were drawn together in Group C along with Algeria and Slovenia.

As soon as the draw was complete the social media garden fence between friendly neighbours became a banter battleground. The most famous match in this most dormant of rivalries took place in Brazil in June 1950 and Haiti-born US international Joe Gaetjens scored the only goal to help the underdogs to a shock victory which was wheeled out with alarming regularity on the 2010 draw's conclusion.

It was a memorable moment for the Americans, but it wasn't their only World Cup high point. The 1994 host team has played in every tournament since 1990, reaching the quarter final in Japan and South Korea in 2002 thanks to the defeat of arch-rivals Mexico in the second round in their first ever World Cup finals meeting. Germany proved too difficult a foe in the last eight, and 2006 was a disappointment which resonated throughout US soccer.

But forget DaMarcus Beasley's toilet break, Alexi Lalas' magnificent beard and John Harkes' John Terry impression. Forget Leonardo's elbow in 1994 and the slugfest against Italy in 2006. Things are a little different now, and spirits are high.

In qualifying, Bradley's boys topped the CONCACAF hexagonal tournament ahead of Mexico in second and Honduras in third. They lost just twice in qualifying, both in genuinely difficult away matches in Costa Rica and Mexico. Two draws - away to El Salvador on matchday two and at home to Costs Rica in the final game - punctuated six wins including two crucial victories on the road in the last three games. In August, defeat in Mexico put the USA in a tough position. But a run of three wins against El Salvador (home), Trinidad & Tobago (away) and Honduras (away) secured Bradley's job and his team's berth at the top of the Hex.

In the same week as the USA confirmed its qualification for the World Cup, tragedy struck the US soccer community. Sochaux striker Charlie Davies was badly injured in a fatal car accident in the DC suburbs. Davies miraculously escaped the wreckage with a ruptured bladder, breaks to his left tibia and femur, a fractured elbow and several facial fractures. His recovery has been amazing, and he returned to Sochaux in February well on the road to fitness, despite a scar from ear to ear from surgery which is best left undescribed.

It was just one of a litany of injuries which has beset the US squad since qualification was secured. Defender Oguchi Onyewu of AC Milan and Fulham's Clint Dempsey are both in a race against time to make the plane to South Africa, while Jay Demerit's freak eye injury put him out for much longer than expected. Fortunately, the situation seems to be shaping up nicely for Bradley and, with Davies on track for a return, the fixture against England on day two of the World Cup could make for an emotional 90 minutes.

The returning trio will bolster a team of deceptive strength, and one which has found its style in the last 12 months. Bradley's side is solid and obstinate, fast enough and clever enough to counter-attack with ruthless efficiency. Goalkeeper Tim Howard is a reliable stopper and recent on-loan Everton colleague Landon Donovan's lightning pace and superb technique is vital to the USA's attacking play. Michael Bradley, the coach's son, and Ricardo Clark are two tough, tenacious central midfielders plying their trade in the Bundesliga. Both press the ball well and the partnership could be key to a good campaign in South Africa.

With the central midfielders protecting a defence which won't have played together properly for a year, much of the creative work will fall to Donovan and Dempsey. Ahead of them, Davies will be partnered by Jozy Altidore, who finally seems to be finding his feet in Europe. Altidore's got bags of technical ability and the Premier League is quickly teaching him how to use his considerable strength, not that he was struggling with that last summer.

Whether or not 2010 turns out to be a vintage US performance in years to come, make no mistake: the Americans are here to stay.

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