The United States has a gargantuan challenge ahead: escape the Group of Death. If the Americans have any hope of keeping up with Germany, Portugal and Ghana and advancing to the round of 16, these four things will have to happen.
1. Establish a back line
Based on total starts in the USA’s qualification run, it appeared the team would head into training camp with a starting defensive back line of Brad Evans, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez and DaMarcus Beasley. Now? Not so much. Evans was cut from the 23-man roster, and an injury and shaky form appear to have pushed Gonzalez down the depth chart. Meanwhile, Fabian Johnson, used mostly as a left midfielder and left back during his time with the U.S., has appeared to lock up the right back spot. This has resulted in what looks like a first choice defensive line of Johnson, Geoff Cameron, Besler and Beasley. This, of course, is subject to change, but the U.S. must figure it out soon to give its defense time to gel.
2. Figure out formation
It’s far from ideal for a team to incorporate a new formation two months before the World Cup, but that’s exactly what coach Jurgen Klinsmann did. The U.S. has set up mostly in a 4-2-3-1 formation during Klinsmann’s tenure, with Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones as the two holding midfielders. Starting with the team’s April friendly against Mexico, however, Klinsmann introduced a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield, featuring Jones in a defensive role and Bradley in a playmaking role. In the last World Cup tuneup, Klinsmann switched again, going with more of a 4-3-2-1, with Kyle Beckerman inserted into the lineup along with Jones and Bradley. We could see that look in Brazil.
3. Someone other than Altidore must score
Coming off a 31-goal season with AZ in the Netherlands, Jozy Altidore was a force for the U.S. in 2013, scoring eight times in 14 appearances. Since then, however, the goals have dried up. Altidore, who had just two goals last season for Sunderland, finally broke a 27-game scoreless drought with his club and the national team in the U.S. friendly last weekend against Nigeria. He’ll start in Brazil, but if he’s alone at forward, much of his responsibility will be checking back and holding the ball, keeping possession for a team likely to be under siege. That means the U.S. will need goals from elsewhere.
4. Howard must shine
Tim Howard, whom Klinsmann has called one of the world’s top five goalkeepers, is coming off the best club season of his career with Everton and will be starting in his second World Cup. With such a difficult draw, Howard, above, will have to come up big several times, regardless of how well the U.S. plays.
More World Cup: