Americans have no reason to be pessimistic about the upcoming 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. The U.S. national team is shaping up to be one of our best ever. After a shocking upset over Spain in the Confederation’s Cup (the biggest international soccer tournament before the World Cup) and an amazing performance against Brazil in the final (although we still lost 3-2), this USA team is finally looking like a contender.
Although it would probably be foolish to bet on or even consider the U.S. taking home the World Cup, we may see this team get further than it has in almost a century. The best performance by the USA was also their first, reaching third place in 1930. Since then the best we’ve done has been to reach the quarterfinals in 2002. Although every year the press of every country in the World Cup speculates that “this could be the year,” the American press may actually not be far off. Looking at the facts, the U.S. seems primed to shine at the World Cup.
One of the big reasons for this is an influx of American players in European Leagues. True, U.S. goalkeepers like Kasey Keller, Tim Howard and even some outfield players like Alexi Lalas and Brian Mcbride have been starting across Europe for a decade, but these kinds of players were few and far between. But now we’re seeing players all across Europe. This summer, Oguchi Onyewu became the first ever American to sign to AC Milan. However, no place in Europe has seen more American players than in Great Britain.
In the English Premier League, American faces are a common occurrence. Clint Dempsey is a regular goal scorer and an important playmaker for Fulham. Twenty-year-old Jozy Altidore has enjoyed more playtime than ever with Hull City, having played in 20 games and scored two goals so far this season. Defenders like Jonathon Spector and Frank Simek are also earning starting spots for their teams.
Fun fact: there are as many American starting keepers in the Premier League as there are English ones right now: Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann and Brad Friedel for Everton; Wolverhampton and Aston for Villa.
Probably the most talked about American player this week was Maurice Edu for the Glasgow Rangers. The Rangers and the Celtics are not only the two biggest teams in Scotland but also comprise what is arguably the greatest soccer rivalry in history. When they play, they play to win. Sunday, Maurice Edu provided that win with a last second goal that put Rangers on top and all but guaranteed them the Scottish Premier League trophy this year.
However, there is no talking about American soccer players without discussing Landon Donovan. At the age of 27, he is already being called the greatest American soccer player of all time and the facts back that up.
He has already become the all-time top scorer for the USA with 42 goals, far surpassing Eric Wynalda’s 34. He has played more games for the U.S. team than any player not retired, and he is the only person ever to receive the Honda Player of the Year award (given to the best American player) six times.
When Donovan plays well, the team plays well. And although he’s still trying to find form during his loan spell at Everton, he has showed some true acts of skill that won’t go unnoticed by the team’s administration.
In conclusion, I say let’s be optimistic about this World Cup. We’re looking better than ever before, and even if we do fizzle out and get knocked out during the group stages, at least we’re being consistent!