By Alex Labidou
There is no denying that this United States national soccer team is one of the most talented to play in the World Cup finals. With a solid blend of youth and experience, for the first time ever the team’s minimum expectation is advancing past the group stages. The question that remains is whether or not it can actually live up to the considerable attention and to some extent hype that it has received over the past few months?
Players like Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Jozy Altidore have become household names like no other previous American soccer players. Whether or not it is warranted, today’s game against England will set the barometer of just how far the US has come in soccer over the past decade. There is no doubting that all of America will be glued on its television sets waiting to see if it has passed the test.
Key Factors Heading Into Today’s Game:
Who Will Step It Up?
It is expected that guys like Donovan, Dempsey and Howard will have to play on a outerworldly level to succeed or even exceed expectations but who else will join them. Last year’s magical run in the Confederation Cup showcased both America’s biggest strengths and weaknesses. The team’s passion is unquestioned, they clearly want to prove themselves on the world’s biggest stages. Where the team has been lacking is in depth. Bob Bradley has capped a significant amount of players and while he has definitely found some new starter quality players in guys like Stuart Holden, who will be the game changer off the bench. All eyes will be on Edson Buddle, Herculez Gomez and Jose Francisco Torres.
After being reluctant to give Torres his first cap, Bob Bradley in recent friendly has let off the shackles on his creative midfielder. In friendlies against Australia and Turkey, it was clear to see that the 22-year old Pachuca player is gifted technically. If Torres can live up to these performances, it would alleviate the pressure on a player like Michael Bradley or Ricardo Clark, who would have to be constantly guarded about receiving yellow cards. It would also allow Torres to form a strong bench unit with Benny Feilhaber, Buddle and Gomez.
When Charlie Davies suffered his severe car crash last year, there were fears that America would have a significant hole to fill at striker. While the injuries that Davies endured are gruesome and unfortunately, there might be a case to be made that it forced Bradley to really scout American forwards across the globe. It can be argued that even though Robbie Findley, Buddle or Gomez aren’t as talented as Davies individually, collectively the US’s striker pool is actually stronger than it was during the Confederations Cup. Buddle’s torrid MLS form has continued in his past few international appearances and Gomez is a sparkplug off the bench who should put fear into opposing defenses.
Is Gooch Ready?
As proven last year during the Confederations Cup, a healthy Oguchi Onyewu is the difference between a win and a loss for the US squad. The US squad might be collectively solid on defense but individually there is no one who can match the AC Milan central defenders physical capabilities. He is a rock literally and his aerial dominance was the difference in the US’s 2-0 upset over Spain. Bradley needs Onyewu to be at least 80 percent of that player in order to get past the group stages. If not, the US’s defense could turn out to be its weakness.
Can Jozy Altidore Have a Transcendent World Cup Tournament?
Altidore’s potential is undisputed, with the right motivation he could be one of the best forwards in the world. What is questioned is his work ethic and sometimes even his determination. If a defender gets in his head like Lucio did in the Confederations Cup final against Brazil last summer, the 20-year old Villareal player easily loses confidence. For a still relatively young player, Altidore has shown up in big games but in order for America to really shock the world, he will have to find it within himself to take advantage of his vast physical skills. He needs to show to everyone watching, that the US will be his team come 2014.
View From The Laboratory is written by Alex Labidou. Labidou joined 90:00 Soccer as a contributor in August 2009 and has worked as a journalist for VIBE, NBA.com, ABC News (20/20), Goal.com and New York Newsday. He can be reached at AlexLabidou@gmail.com