In what might be his final World Cup, Tim Howard and his fellow Americans face what may be the hardest group in Brazil this summer. Matches against Ghana, Portugal, and Germany ensure that the USMNT will require a bit of luck coupled with some fantastic play if they want to make the round of 16 for consecutive World Cups.
Former Everton loanee Landon Donovan will not be making the trip. Jurgen Klinsmann made a bold decision to leave the LA Galaxy star at home. It was the equivalent of leading Steven Gerrard off the World Cup roster for those of you over in England.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Tim Howard will be the USA's starter once again. After his inconsistent 2012-2013 season there was talk of giving Brad Guzan the number 1 shirt, but Jurgen Klinnsman never wavered in his support of Howard. Several times now he has called Howard one of the 5 best keepers in the world, and the Everton man is one of if not the most important player on the field for the USMNT. Should anything happen to Howard, Brad Guzan is a more than capable deputy. It is not an exaggeration to say that his play kept Aston Villa in the Premier League this season. As always the US will be fine in goal.
DEFENDERS (8): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Nürnberg), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC)
This may be the USMNT's biggest weakness unfortunately. Only DaMarcus Beasley has any World Cup experience, none of it in defense. Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler are likely to pair up in the center of the defense. The duo has looked solid though sometimes shaky through qualifying.
On the left, DaMarcus Beasley seems certain to get the nod over Timmy Chandler. While Chandler may have more talent, especially going forward, Beasley and Besler have a much better defensive partnership. The friendly against Turkey showed Chandler and Besler getting caught out several times because of a lack of communication. Beasley's return to the line up against Nigeria showed a much better understanding on the left side of the defense.
Fabian Johnson seems set to be the right back for the USMNT after a fantastic showing in the pre-World Cup friendlies. His bombing runs forward have been delicious, and his strike from a Michael Bradley chip would have made Martin Tyler catatonic.
MIDFIELDERS (8): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Jermaine Jones (Besiktas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
Midfield is where the USMNT has a lot of options, most of which will depend on the whims of Jurgen Klinsmann. Michael Bradley is the only lock to start. The midfielder, who I would love to see at Everton, has shown an ability to play as an attacking mid, as well as playing his traditional box-to-box duties.
His likely partner in the middle will be Jermaine Jones, who is a solid defensive midfielder with sound positioning. If Jurgen goes with 5 midfielders Bradley will either partner with Jones as a defensive midfielder, or as the attacking mid in which case Kyle Beckerman will partner with Jones at defensive mid.
Out wide there are a lot of options for the US. It seems likely that Graham Zusi will start at one of the midfield spots, and with 5 midfielders I'd put Clint Dempsey on the other side. With 4 midfielders Alejandro Bedoya or Brad Davis will probably get the start out wide.
FORWARDS (4): Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
The only real question here is what formation Jurgen goes with. If the US goes with a 4-5-1, Jozy Altidore will be the lone striker. The Sunderland man had a rough go with the Black Cats this season, but he appears to be hitting some good form for the USMNT. If Klinsmann goes with two up top, Altidore will likely be paired with former Fulham man Clint Dempsey. The two have a solid partnership and with differing styles, should give the USMNT a potent attack if they can get the ball forward.
Are They Getting Out Of the Group?
Probably Not. As much as American's would like to think this is a winnable group, the truth is the USMNT is arguably the worst squad in the group. Germany is certainly the best followed by Portugal. Then it comes Ghana and the US though both are close to even on talent. The USMNT will have to get 3 points against Ghana and hopefully steal a point against Portugal. Anything less will require a must win against Germany in the final group match. Not exactly an ideal situation. At least that means we get Tim Howard back early, silver linings and all that.