How Does 2014 World Cup Squad Compare With 2010?
American Soccer Now's Blake Thomsen sizes up how the 2014 U.S. World Cup squad compares to its counterpart of four years ago, complete with stats and videos and analysis.
BY Blake Thomsen PostedNOW THAT THE 23-MAN squad has been finalized and Group G is within shouting distance, we thought we’d take a position-by-position look at how this year’s U.S. World Cup squad matches up with the 2010 squad. There's a lot to say, so we're going to hop to it.
June 04, 2014
June 04, 2014
GOALKEEPER—2010Just as it is now, Tim Howard was the No. 1 goalkeeping option ahead of backup Brad Guzan in the previous cycle. Back then, Howard had a legitimate claim as a top five keeper in the world, which was never more justifiable than in the Confederations Cup shutout of Spain. Howard excelled in the Hexagonal, too, before turning in a somewhat disappointing World Cup performance. He’d never admit it, but the blow he took from England’s Emile Heskey in the Yanks’ opening match in South Africa may have prevented him from being at his best (go to the 4:00 mark below). He still had his moments, though, especially against Algeria. His perfect positioning to stop Rafik Saifi’s stoppage-time header followed by his epic throw to Landon Donovan to springboard the U.S.’s late winner was an absolutely world-class sequence.
GOALKEEPER—2014After two below-standard seasons for Everton in 2011-12 and 2012-13, Howard responded magnificently this past season for the Toffees. Howard actually delivered his best numbers in save percentage, clean sheets, and goals against average since his otherworldly 2008-09 campaign. Howard has also excelled for the U.S. over the past year. Half of his last 10 matches have been clean sheets, and even when the U.S. has given up one or more goals, Howard has rarely been at fault. Efforts such as this one against Ukraine have been relatively common lately, with Howard saving incredibly on the first shot, but being so exposed by his defense that he can’t quite prevent a goal. ADVANTAGE: Even
A year ago, when Howard had just come off his worst season for Everton, it would have been hard to imagine that his pre-2014 World Cup version could be performing at the same level that he was back in 2010. But Howard deserves substantial credit for raising his game for club and country over the past year, and the U.S. can rest assured that it will be in excellent hands going into Brazil.
DEFENDERS—2010The U.S. defense conceded 13 goals in 10 Hex games during the 2010 cycle, and that good-but-not-great form continued into the World Cup. It’s safe to say that the U.S. could only claim one truly above-average defender in South Africa—right back Steve Cherundolo. Carlos Bocanegra was just starting to show signs of aging (especially on Asamoah Gyan’s knockout stage winner for Ghana) and Oguchi Onyewu never reached his previous form following a serious knee injury. Though he had a flair for the dramatic, Jay DeMerit was far from flawless as well, failing to offer sufficient resistance on Kevin Prince-Boateng’s opener for Ghana and also guilty of conceding a huge chance in the opening minutes against Algeria. Aside from Cherundolo, Jonathan Bornstein may have actually had the best tournament of any U.S. defender, as he rarely if ever got beat or was caught out of position. All told, the U.S. conceded five goals in four games against relatively uninspiring opposition. They’ll face a far greater challenge this time around.
DEFENDERS—2014Despite a somewhat constantly rotating back line, the U.S. conceded just eight goals in the 2013 Hex, and only six in the final nine games. The situation looks increasingly shaky heading into Brazil, however. The potential is obvious--Fabian Johnson and Geoff Cameron are in top form, Matt Besler has been excellent for over a year, and Timmy Chandler played very well in the Bundesliga. DaMarcus Beasley has been a generally capable left back stand-in as well. But at this point, that enormous potential is anything but realized. The defense looked a bit all over the place against Turkey, in a game which the U.S. was lucky to escape with only one goal allowed. Even though the individual players may be upgrades over the past, the defense is yet to click as a unit. With only one more game before the World Cup to sort things out, U.S. supporters are understandably nervous about the potential of this group to mesh in time for Brazil. And unfortunately, the 2014 World Cup group will not be nearly as forgiving as the 2010 was. Jurgen Klinsmann's No. 1 priority before the Ghana game will almost certainly be getting his defense in order. ADVANTAGE: Even
The possible range of outcomes for the 2014 group is enormous here, but we'll call this one even to account for all possibilities. Unlike the 2014 group, you largely knew what you were going to get with the 2010 defenders. They may not have been exceptional athletes, but they were well-organized and were rarely caught too far out of position. The 2014 unit, for now, looks like a polar opposite of 2010. There are four players with the potential to form a top-class back four, but they have hardly played together, and it shows. Check back in July to see how this one worked out: it's impossible to assess now.
MIDFIELDERS—2010The 2010 World Cup was very much a coming out party for Michael Bradley, as he was perhaps the Americans’ best player in the tournament. Incredibly, one would expect him to play even better this time around, but given just how good he was in South Africa, it will be hard to top his 2010 performance by too great of a distance. The 2010 midfield also boasted the squad’s other two best players, as Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey were extremely dangerous as outside midfielders. Dempsey, Donovan, and Bradley combined to score all five U.S. goals in South Africa, an incredible achievement (go to the 1:55 mark to see the 2010 goals). In fact, only the Netherlands, a finalist, got more goals from the midfield than the U.S. did. The U.S. midfield also featured an exceptional spark plug off the bench in the form of Benny Feilhaber, who looked primed for big things following a tournament when he was a constant threat and helped contribute to a 4-1 goal differential when he was on the field. The only weak link for the 2010 U.S. midfield was certainly Ricardo Clark. Though he brought considerable athleticism to the table and did plenty of good things throughout the tournament, his careless giveaway against Ghana in the knockout stage set the tone for the U.S.’s heartbreaking World Cup exit.
MIDFIELDERS—2014Bradley enters this World Cup in as good of form as any U.S. player in a long time, and he’ll be expected to carry the team with his nonstop running and constantly improving attacking game. Elsewhere in the center of midfield, Jermaine Jones is a highly talented question mark—in his own way, he may be almost as important to the U.S. cause as Bradley. At his best, Jones is a Champions League caliber player, capable of facilitating attacks from deep and also bringing substantial athleticism and tough tackling. But he’s prone to a lack of defensive discipline that can leave the U.S. backline severely exposed if and when he gets caught out of position. If Klinsmann is a strong enough manager to leave Donovan off the World Cup squad, one would hope that he is also strong enough to instill an improved sense of discipline in Jones’ game. The outside of the midfield, while certainly not a weak point, will be unable to come close to matching the dynamic Donovan-Dempsey duo of 2010. One of Graham Zusi or Alejandro Bedoya figures to start at right mid, and it’s quite possible that whichever of those two doesn’t start on the right could start on the left. Brad Davis is another candidate on the left, as is Julian Green, but the teen looks like a long shot to see significant playing time in Brazil. ADVANTAGE: 2010
Though the 2010 midfield was viewed as the pre-World Cup strong suit on paper, few could have expected such prolific goal scoring as well as such all-around superb play. As good as Michael Bradley has become, it’s still just about impossible to foresee the 2014 midfield outperforming the 2010 group, especially with Clint Dempsey moved into a forward role. With that said, it’s worth noting that the 2014 midfield group is still quite good, and there’s no reason to think it won’t have an excellent tournament.
FORWARDS—2010After some serviceable Hex performances, Brian Ching and Connor Casey missed out on the World Cup in favor of a trio of in-form, unproven strikers: Edson Buddle, Robbie Findley, and Herculez Gomez. All failed to offer much in a disappointing display in South Africa. And though Jozy Altidore had plenty of good runs and drew a few yellow cards, he never looked too threatening, except for a deflected shot off the post against England in the opening match. It’s also worth noting that the loss of Charlie Davies in late 2009 to a life-threatening car accident severely hampered the U.S.’s forward options. Davies himself was in excellent form, and his presence on the field always seemed to bring out the best in Altidore. Severely missing the electric pace and cool finishing of Davies, U.S. strikers failed to score for the second straight World Cup, instead relying on midfielders Donovan, Dempsey, and Bradley to score all five goals in South Africa.
FORWARDS—2014Altidore will be the main man up top for the second straight World Cup, and though his numbers for Sunderland left much to be desired over the past Premier League season, there’s no denying that his game has improved immensely since South Africa. With the red-hot Clint Dempsey in a role that Klinsmann appears to classify as a second forward, the U.S. has a serious chance of battering the goal scoring rates of its strikers from the last two World Cups. Throw in the electric Aron Johannsson and goal poacher extraordinaire Chris Wondolowski off the bench, and the U.S. striking situation is in its best hands since Donovan and Brian McBride dazzled in the 2002 World Cup. ADVANTAGE: 2014 The striking department may be the U.S.’s biggest growth area since the last World Cup. In 2010, the four forwards who saw the field never seemed to strike much fear in the hearts of the U.S.’s opponents. That should be vastly different this time around. The probable starting duo of Altidore and Dempsey poses a major threat, and Wondolowski and especially Johannsson will also be quite dangerous off the bench. Without a doubt, things are looking up for the U.S.’s forward unit.
SQUAD DEPTH—2010In a devastating 24-hour period in October 2009, last cycle’s team was decimated by injuries to Onyewu and Davies. With its defensive rock out of form and its high-upside striker missing entirely, the squad never again reached the level that allowed it to play eye to eye with Brazil and Spain over the previous summer. Those injuries were magnified even more by the pre-existing lack of depth of the 2010 team, which simply didn’t have the personnel to cope with two major losses. It’s not remotely his fault, but DeMerit couldn’t duplicate the once-dominant form of Onyewu in the middle. And the revolving door of second strikers was not up to Davies’ level, either. Elsewhere, aside from the excellent Feilhaber, Bob Bradley was severely short of game-changing options off the bench. All in all, the team was just that little bit too thin to make a serious run in South Africa.
SQUAD DEPTH—2014Across the field, the current crop of bench players is deeper than their 2010 counterparts. Starting even at the goalkeeping position, Brad Guzan is far more ready to step in than he was back in 2010. The defense is a tad thin, as Omar Gonzalez and especially John Brooks may not be the most trustworthy options should Cameron or Besler go down. But Gonzalez at least has plenty of experience and some very strong performances to his name.The fullback situation is also in good hands, as Chandler, Johnson, and Beasley are all well-equipped to start. DeAndre Yedlin likely won’t go near the field as a starter, but his pace could make a legitimate impact off the bench in the right circumstances. In the center of the midfield, Kyle Beckerman seems ready to step in should Jones or Bradley have to miss out through injury or suspension. Beckerman has questionable athleticism at best, but his superb positioning and reading of the game would serve him well were he called upon. And if the U.S. needs a late goal, it is in good hands with Johannsson and Wondolowski. And though Green looked overmatched physically in his 30-minute cameo against Mexico, he used his explosiveness to draw what really should have been a penalty. ADVANTAGE: 2014
The 2010 squad had plenty of talent at the top, but it was a relatively thin group from players 10-23 or so. The current squad does not have the same problem. Though lacking World Cup experience, it boasts perhaps the most impressive depth in U.S. World Cup history, or at least since 2002. Especially given the grueling playing and traveling conditions, the U.S.’s depth could be one of its biggest assets in Brazil.