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World Cup: USA Looks to Rebound

I vividly remember the United States’ start to the 2006 World Cup. Almost four years to the day, I was sitting in a Jacksonville Beach sports bar watching the U.S. of A not living up to the hype and expectations created from the 2002 Cup. On that Monday, June 12, 2006, our representatives of the red, white and blue fought until the end in a 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic. It was a brutal shot to the guts of all USA fans expecting a quarterfinals berth like in 2002. And, in a strong grouping, which included Italy and Ghana, the outlook was bleak.

I do not want any of those feelings again this year. Primarily, I can only talk international soccer with most sports fans during World Cup season – once every four years for one month. I need jubilation, chest bumps and the talk of 3-5-2 formations. Wait ‘til next year is not an option.

As we all remember, in the 2002 Cup, the United States went 0-2-1 with one official goal scored. The round of 16 and on was thrilling World Cup soccer. However, it was missing the USA.

For this Cup, I feel extremely confident with this USA squad’s chances. In what many have deemed the United States’ easiest grouping in years, the Americans are scheduled to face England [No. 8], Slovenia [No. 25] and Algeria [No. 30] – FIFA world rankings in parentheses.

It is all part of the United States’ path to a World Cup quarterfinal berth. After coaching the U.S. national team for nearly eight years and leading them to our nation’s best FIFA world ranking at No. 4, head coach Bruce Arena did not have his contract renewed in 2006. To take his place, and, in my opinion, with Arena’s recommendation, Bob Bradley became the man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. As many have put it so well, Bradley’s legacy will come down to the next three World Cup games, not the last three and a half years.

If 2010 is expected to be successful, the Americans will have to overcome injuries to key players. Twenty-year-old striker Jozy Altidore, who sprained his ankle one week ago, seems to be fully healed and prepared to play. Sturdy defender Oguchi Onyewu is still recovering from a torn left patellar tendon, which tore about eight months ago. Lastly, Carlos Bocanegra, who is third on the team with 79 international appearances, is shaking off a sports hernia injury. To play at full force, the United States will need all three of these men on the field.

If not, the Americans will have to rely heavily on its leaders – forward Clint Dempsey, goalkeeper Tim Howard and midfielder Landon Donovan. With added maturity and experience, the 27-year-old Dempsey needs to showcase his knack for placing the ball in the back of the net. Having played in the English Premier League with Fulham, Dempsey has improved his skills vastly in the world’s top soccer league.

After parts of two decades of U.S. soccer star Kasey Keller in goal, the 6-foot-3 Howard has become one of the best keepers in all of soccer. During the last eight seasons, Howard has also spent time in the EPL with Manchester United and Everton. But, when USA soccer is ever mentioned, usually the first name mentioned is Donovan’s. At 28 and the major disappointment from 2006 still looming, Donovan can cement his U.S. soccer legend with a strong showing in South Africa. As the team’s leader in international appearances and goals – 123 and 42, respectively, Donovan realizes he has to shed his egotistical ways to focus on the team-first mentality.

Whatever way the United States uses to succeed in this year’s World Cup, I do not care. All I know is I cannot take more disappointment like in 2006. I would love a repeat of 2002 and then some because this USA team is capable of special things. An early exit would be painful, but I will always be proud to be an American. Although, I must say I do prefer winning to losing.

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Richard Miller is a national broadcaster for Jacksonville Jaguars’ home games on Sporting News Radio.

Additionally, he can be heard on ABC 1320 WBOB in Jacksonville and 103.7 FM at the Jacksonville Beaches on Saturdays as host of Inside the Game. The program airs from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m.

Currently, Richard is writing David Lamm’s biography entitled Lamm at Large: The David Lamm Story, which will be available in 2010.

Follow Richard’s daily blog on The Jacksonville Observer and his Twitter page MillerOnSports.

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