It is certainly hard not to look at USA's Group G as the Group of Death from my stand point. The US must some how find a way to deal with Germany's undoubted might, quell Ronaldo's world beater skill, and find the nerve to break their bogey team, Ghana. As if to compound the misery from the draw, the United States also tends to struggle at every other World Cup, failing to make it out of the Group Stages each time. A quick look back at the past 6 World Cup finishes for the US sees them fall into this shocking pattern:
Italy 1990 - Group Stages
USA 1994 - Round of 16
France 1998 - Group Stages
Germany 2006 - Group Stages
South Africa 2010 - Round of 16
Brazil 2014 - ???
Group G Matches:
June 16th - Ghana
June 22nd - Portugal
June 26th - Germany
As you can see, the pattern doesn't bode well for Donovan and Co! However I don't believe in pre-destined patterns and the United States are finely set up to make a shock in this year's World Cup! Wishful thinking? Okay just maybe a little! But the bottom line for the US will be to take 3 pts from their opening match against Ghana. This simply must happen if the US hope to have any chance of advancing to the next round. Thankfully Germany will face Portugal in Group G's other opening match. If Germany can inflict some punishment on Ronaldo and his side, that might possibly give the US a mental edge when they face Portugal in the next match. If they can get a result out of Portugal and limit the damage from facing Germany in the final match, the US might just squeak out of Group G as runner's up. Okay let's take a look at Klinsmann's 30 man squad for the 2014 World Cup. Note: Remember that this is a provisional line up and a final 23 man squad will be chosen by June 2nd.
UPDATE: Jurgen Klinsmann's 23 player squad has been released, those players that were dropped have been crossed out of the original 30 player roster.
Obviously for those who follow US soccer (yes I said it!) there are some notable absentees from the provisional squad, namely Eddie Johnson. I for one am a bit mixed on this call. For starters, Eddie Johnson scored some crucial goals for the US, netting twice to beat Antigua and assisting Clint Dempsey's strike to down Guatemala during the WC Qualifiers. However, for those that don't follow the MLS, Johnson is well known to have an ego and there have been reports that he is a negative presence in the locker room. When he played for Seattle, Johnson seemed to try and send a message to the owners to pay him more by gesturing after a goal. This was in response to the huge contract for Clint Dempsey in which all the other players on the team had to take a salary cut to afford him. I admittedly have a bit of bias against him because he played for my team's arch rivals Seattle, however I can understand dropping him to continue the harmony in the squad. But I will say that I hope it doesn't come back to haunt us when we need a proven goal scorer in crunch time.
Since there is still some speculation about which 23 players will make the final cut, I am going to focus on the ones we all know will be selected. But frankly there are some players within the 30 man squad that I just don't know that much about, but I will try and include the fringe players I believe will make a positive impact on USA's WC campaign.
Fantasy Players to Watch:
Tim Howard - We all know and love Timmy for his outstanding performances this season for Everton. The American number 1 has been a constant presence in the Premier League and will need to summon all that experience and skill to help push the US through this exciting group. You can bet Howard will play every minute of every match if he stays fit. This selection is going to go one of two ways:
1.) The United States are going to continue their one "on" one "off" World Cup form, leaving Howard with possible poor fantasy returns if the goal conceded tally gets high.
2.) Howard has a blinder in goal and single-handedly shuts out the opposition, leading to bogus point returns from the amount of saves.
I am still unsure which United States team is going to show up to the World Cup, but you can bet Timmy will be called into action and may yet prove himself the hero.
DeAndre Yedlin - It pains me to highlight Seattle players, but Yedlin is an exciting young defender that just might be in line to take his chance at this World Cup. I am not sure if he gets selected, but he certainly will add energy and pace to the back line. This is more of a bench option in fantasy terms if he is chosen, but if injury strikes the defense, Yedlin will be an interesting option at a presumably cheap price.
Clarence Goodson - One of the expected CBs for Klinsmann's final 23 man squad and should presumably play a big part in the USA defense. Goodson brings past World Cup experience from South Africa and recently played a major role in the United States 2013 Gold Cup triumph. If there is one player to watch in the heart of USA's defense it will be Goodson. Ed. Note: Goodson has been left out of the 23-man squad. The decision to drop Goodson was a bit bemusing to me especially after the work he did for the team during the Gold Cup trophy triumph. I expect Matt Besler to now be one of the first choice CB's for the WC, but fantasy wise I don't expect much.
DaMarcus Beasley - The seemingly ever present name on the National Team roster and utilized as a winger but also left back. Beasley was selected for the 2010 World Cup but only made one substitute appearance. However, since the introduction of Jurgen Klinsmann as head coach, Beasley has seen something of a rebirth going on to captain the US to the 2013 Gold Cup trophy. If that tournament was anything to go by, then Beasley could be in line to start at the left back berth for the opening match against Ghana, which arguably represents USA's best chance at a clean sheet.
Michael Bradley - Nailed into the side and the engine room architect of USA's midfield. Bradley is a box to box midfielder with intelligent passing, breathless stamina, and the odd eye for goal. Maybe not the high profile offensive pick like Dempsey or Donovan, but Bradley should be the main man weaving defense into attack. I think a good comparison for Bradley in Yahoo Fantasy terms is Mile Jedinak with exception of being a bigger goal threat. He will interrupt play, make tackles/interceptions, orchestrate attacks but possibly be the first set up man without getting the assist.
Graham Zusi - The Sporting Kansas winger is certainly a firecracker in the United State's attacking arsenal. Zusi has been present in the National team since 2012 and should make the final 23 man squad in my opinion. His creativity in the attacking midfield 3 for SKC has lead to an MLS career total of 43 assists in 6 seasons. He has undoubted quality in delivering the crucial pass to goal and has a strong set piece delivery. Hopefully we will see a bit more from Klinsmann in USA's remaining friendly fixtures as to if Zusi has nailed down a starting role.
Clint Dempsey - We all know Dempsey's outstanding ability from his time at Fulham and to a lesser extent, Tottenham. Dempsey will be ever present in the US line up for this forth coming World Cup and will need to be as potent as ever if hopes of progressing out of the Group Stage are to come to fruition. With 102 National team appearances and 36 international goals, Dempsey will be one of USA's best attacking players. Although it hurts to see him doing so well for Seattle currently, we need him to be firing on all cylinders if we hope to take points off Germany and Portugal. Note: With Donovan left out of the WC final squad, expect Dempsey to shoulder much of the burden of scoring goals. Presumably, Clint will take over penalty duty as well.
Landon Donovan - A lot of fuss was made about Landon's decision to take a year off from the National team, but he fit seamlessly back into the side, assisting and scoring in the 2-0 victory over Mexico in the 2013 Qualifiers. This effectively assured the US entry to the World Cup finals. I for one would not want to enter Group G without his vast leadership and experience let alone his already tallied 57 international goals in 154 appearances. We cannot forget his 2010 WC heroics when scoring against Algeria in stoppage to send the US through to the Round of 16. It was in the next round that he also converted a penalty to push the US to extra time against Ghana, only to go on lose 2-1. This pick will depend a lot on how the fantasy game places him, as a midfielder or a forward. He does have set pieces in his locker as well as penalties however and must be considered. Ed. Note: Donovan has been left out of the 23-man squad. This was a huge shock to see Lando left off the USMNT final 23 player roster. I honestly can't see any justification in it. Regardless of his one year break, Donovan has been the heart beat for the US for the majority of his career. I understand the need to blood the young, rising stars, but surely Klinsmann would have been wise to take Donovan even if he played as a sub. Having Donovan's impact off the bench could have been a master stroke move with a player at his level entering his last remaining years. I stated above that Eddie Johnson's exclusion could come back to haunt us, with Lando not even in the team, I know this will come back to haunt us. The majority of the attacking work is now going to fall on Dempsey, Altidore, Zusi and Bradley, with Clint presumably taking over penalty duty. When it's all said and done, Jurgen, I hope you know what you are doing!
Jozy Altidore - Although Jozy suffered a pretty poor season in the EPL with Sunderland after failing to score a league goal, he has been on fire for the USMNT. 2013 was particularly good for Altidore, racking up 8 international goals. Altidore is a different beast for the National side and his physical/direct play will be crucial to any US men's success at this WC.
I am sure we will be making updates to this roster as the 30 man squad gets paired down to the final 23 man WC team. If you were to ask me how I feel the US will do at the WC this year, then I'd give you an answer full of optimism. The reality is: 3pts against Ghana and a result against Portugal must happen in order to advance, assuming Germany will run the group. The US looks poised to launch a surprise run in Group G, I am just devastated I'll be back out on contract when the WC kicks off! But you may just want to have some representative cover from the mighty Red, White, and Blue!