With the United States national soccer team set to open World Cup play at 5 p.m. Monday against Ghana, the NewsTribune asked area prep soccer coaches to analyze the U.S. team.
Below is the area coaches’ breakdown.
NewsTribune: What do you think are the U.S. team’s chances of advancing out of group play?
La Salle-Peru boys and girls coach Ryan Duffy: Unfortunately, not great. The experts are calling this the “Group of Death” for good reason as there is no easy match-up in the field.
Germany is a contender to win it all, Portugal has one of the two best players in the world and Ghana has been a thorn in the side of U.S. soccer for a decade.
It is as feasible that they finish last as it is for them to escape with the second spot.
Mendota boys and girls coach Chawn Huffaker: I firmly believe they can get out of the group stage by beating Ghana and Germany. Portugal has so much offense and they press so well on the counter that they will win the group with or without Ronaldo.
Princeton girls coach Ed Young: The USA has a very difficult group to get out of. Germany and Portugal are teams that could advance deep into the Cup.
NT: What are the keys for the U.S. team to advance?
Duffy: The U.S. will have to play their best games and have a little luck on their side to have a chance to advance. Maybe Germany’s injury woes hurt them than people think. Maybe Portugal really is just “Ronaldo and 10 other guys” and it’s possible that isn’t enough. Maybe Ghana has lost that spark they had in 2010. The U.S. does not advance without three points against Ghana and, even if they get that, they need good fortune on their side.
Huffaker: Bradley in the center (midfield position) is the key to the whole team, but in order to advance the outside midfielders will need to step up their play and play very well.
Young: The keys for American success are Jozy Altidore finding the back of net, (Michael) Bradley continuing to distribute with precision passing and the defense being cohesive. (The U.S. needs) a consistent high level of play. The men looked great against Nigeria. If we can improve upon that form, we have a chance to surprise people. The expectation for the U.S. is low so the pressure is not on. I heard the Germans will be missing some players due to injury. Not sure who, but it could be significant enough to open the door for America.
NT: What are the strengths of the U.S. team?
Duffy: I like the methods of coach Jurgen Klinsmann. He has shifted the philosophy of the team from ultra-conservative and purely counterattacking to a team that pushes the ball and looks for scoring chances. Midfielder Michael Bradley is a truly exciting player to watch and he has the ability to bring his teammates to a higher level, or take control of the game himself (which he will need to do at times to give us a chance).
Huffaker: The strength of the team is the coaches’ tactical ability and that no team in the group thinks anything of them. You can’t take any team for granted ever in soccer.
Young: I liked the way the U.S. team moved the ball — nice, quick passing and courageous penetration led to many scoring opportunities. We need to finish those opportunities.
NT: What are the weaknesses of the U.S. team?
Duffy: As with all Cup teams, the U.S. has had limited time to gel. Klinsmann is bringing a relatively thin roster with the hopes that their younger players can grow with some international experience. It’s the smart move when considering the future, but may not bode well for their prospects this year.
Outside of Bradley, the U.S. looks to be weak in the midfield when compared to the powerhouse attackers they face in Group G. Their midfield has also at times looked like they are not all on the same page, leaving them prone to counterattacks.
Defensively, their center backs may struggle to find a way to stop some of the elite players. Maybe the stars align and they find a working formula for their pieces, or maybe they build toward a stronger unit for 2018.
Huffaker: The strikers are the weakest part of the team, in my opinion. I know we have Clint (Dempsey) and he can score, but really Altidore has done next to nothing for so long its hard to count him as a strength right now.
I look for a tournament full of upsets. I would love Spain to win again — that’s my pick and I will stay with them — but it would not surprise me at all if a small South American country makes a deep run and upsets some big nation along the way.
Young: (The U.S. needs) to limit the mistakes and not turn ball over in risky situations.
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.