by Christopher Shepard
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A couple of decades ago, most sports fans in the USA barely knew what soccer was, let alone where and when the World Cup was held. Football meant the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants. Ever since the USA's appearance at the 1994 World Cup, however, interest in soccer throughout the USA has grown exponentially. 2006 World Cup Germany will be the USA's fifth finals appearance in a row and the team is currently No. 7 in the world according to the FIFA rankings. Don't let that number and old prejudices against USA soccer fool you - this team has the talent to go far in Germany.
Team USA is grouped into one of the tougher draws of the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Consider that the USA is pooled in Group E, the only group with two other teams in the top 12 in the World FIFA Rankings (the Czech republic is No. 2 and Italy is No. 12 with Ghana rounding out the group). Before the USA's victory over Czech Republic in their March friendly, the USA had never beaten any of the three teams in Group E (Ghana and the USA have never played each other), holding a combined lifetime record of 0-4-2.
The saying history repeats itself has never been truer than for the USA as this is the second time the team will face the Czech Republic and Italy in group play of the World Cup. In 1990 World Cup Italy, USA, Italy and Czechoslovakia, with Austria, comprised Group A. The USA could not buy a win, losing 5-1 and 1-0 to the Czechs and Italians, respectively. The match order in 1990 was the same as it is in 2006, with the U.S. facing the Czech Republic first and Italy second while Ghana replaces Austria for USA's third match. This team's final group match against Ghana will be their first meeting against the African nation. Ghana qualified for their first-ever World Cup this year.
As the World Cup gets nearer, the US seems to play well when they need it. Against Poland in snowy Kaiserslautern, the USA defeated the Polish side in a friendly,1-0, as Clint Dempsey headed the winner in the 48th minute of the game. Despite playing a loose, almost aimless style against Poland, the USA managed to play well when they needed to and by the second half the Americans had the game well in hand.
A bright spot, and major confidence builder going into World Cup play for Arena's team is that in the friendlies they have played so far, the Americans have not lost recording four wins out of five games while scoring 13 goals and allowing just two goals. These wins come against quality teams and could be a harbinger of how deep Team USA can go in this tournament; that is if they can somehow get past Italy and Czech Republic.
USA World Cup 2006 Team Odds: Betcom has USA listed to win the 2006 World Cup at 66/1 odds.
Strengths: No team at the World Cup will be fitter, quicker or more experienced than the USA as Bruce Arena's squad looks to build upon their quarterfinals results in Korea/Japan in 2002. Team USA is led by midfield playmaker Landon Donovan, the ex-Bayer Leverkusen player, currently at Los Angeles Galaxy, who managed to score six goals and six assists during the USA's dazzling qualifiers. Not only is the USA a very experienced team, it also has three good goalkeepers in Kasey Keller, Tim Howard and Marcus Hahnemann.
Manager Bruce Arena has a wealth of talent to choose from including an unlikely group of young talent in DaMarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan combined with experienced footballers like Brian McBride and Claudio Reyna. In fact, this USA side has never been as strong as they appear to be this year, having finished ahead of Mexico in qualifying, which was a first. The Americans cashed their ticket to 2006 FIFA World Cup with three matches spare in the final round of North, Central American and Caribbean qualifiers. Despite losing to qualifiers Costa Rica, the USA won their regional for the first time in their history.
Weaknesses: Bruce Arena's Americans have a good enough team to compete against any team in World Cup, however the USA has had bad luck when playing European teams -- most specifically Eastern European teams. The USA will need to have a particularly strong showing in their first two games against two powerful European countries in Czech Republic and Italy. One of the drawbacks for the USA side is that they do not play world-class teams on a regular rotation; hence their woeful record against European opponents.
USA World Cup 2006 Outlook: With experience to spare, nothing less than going deep into the tournament is acceptable for Arena's team. Even with a familiar group of new players and the old soccer campaigners from the 2002 edition still together, the USA will have an uphill battle against a very tough draw. If the USA advances to the second round, and that is a very big IF, This team would meet a team from Group F (Brazil, Croatia, Australia and Japan) in either Kaiserslautern (June 26) or Dortmund (June 27). In recent World Cup memory, the USA made it through to the knockout stages when hosting the tournament in 1998 and made the quarterfinals at the last World Cup, so this team knows how to win in Round 1. But they have also never had as difficult a draw as they will in Germany. Let's hope for the USA's sake history does not repeat itself.
USA World Cup 2006 First Round Match Schedule (all times local):
Mon 12 June 18:00 Group E3 USA vs. Group E4 Czech Republic at Gelsenkirchen
Sat 17 June 21:00 Group E1 Italy vs. Group E3 USA at Kaiserslautern
Thu 22 June 16:00 Group E2 Ghana v Group E3 USA at Nuremburg
Updated USA World Cup 2006 News:Is the USA Ready for the World Cup?
by Trevor Whenham - 05/31/2006
Tomorrow, Team USA will be heading to Germany to toil in the tough Group E. They carry heavy expectations, having made the quarterfinals in 2002 and heading to the World Cup ranked 5th in the FIFA World Rankings. Unfortunately, almost no one who isn't on the roster would consider that ranking to be an accurate representation of the team's chances at the tournament.
Read more about USA at the World Cup.
U.S. Announces World Cup Roster for Germany
by Robert Ferringo - 05/05/2006
I remember back in fifth grade when I got to represent my school in the city spelling bee. To me that was the Pinnacle. And at the time I honestly didn't think that there could be any greater honor than that.
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No Respect For United States Despite Highest Ranking Ever
by Jordan Adams - 03/24/2006
When FIFA released its most recent world rankings in March, the surprise of the group was the United States, ranked No. 5. Moving up from its sixth position, this set of rankings marks the highest the United States has ever been ranked among soccer's elite, ranking higher than world powers France, England and Spain.
Read more about Doubts About Team USA.