Group C: USA

No longer a joke or a novelty, the US need to take it to the next level, says Jamie Trecker...

The United States enter the World Cup as a team in transition. No longer the unknowns or the underdogs after a strong showing in the Far East in 2002, the Americans have struggled to live up to their ambition of being a legitimate World Cup contender.

They have certainly made incredible progress, though. Since 1990, the US have gone from fielding all-amateur sides to forming a robust top-flight league and now place many of their key players with European teams.

Where once it was rare to for a Yank to even get a scout from a foreign club watching them, today hundreds of Americans are playing abroad at all levels of the game, and names like Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Tim Howard and Marcus Hahnemann are well-known by Premier League fans.

But the USA still fail to win big games, particularly on the road. The Americans thought they'd broken that duck when they upset Spain in the Confederations Cup and followed that up by pushing Brazil in the final, but they soon reverted to type and lost embarrassingly to Mexico in New York. They remain a hungry team, but one that sadly can’t make it over the final hurdle.

StrengthsThe biggest attribute the Americans bring to the table is a never-say-die work ethic. They’re not the most technically gifted side in the world, but they are tough to play against because of this. Donovan and Dempsey are legitimate stars and Tim Howard is a proven top-notch keeper. If the ‘good’ DaMarcus Beasley shows up, the Americans gain a deadly winger to boot, something Walter Smith has seen little of at Rangers.

WeaknessesThe US have several. At a fundamental level, this team are reactive, meaning they are half a step behind any talented opponents. They lack playmaking vision and organisation. And most damagingly, they are very vulnerable in the back. The Americans leak bad goals and have shown few signs of addressing this over the past 18 months.

Interesting fact The USA's best World Cup campaign was better than Spain's. The Americans finished third back in 1930, a step ahead of Spain's fourth place 20 years later.

The Coach: Bob Bradley Widely viewed as the second-choice candidate after Jurgen Klinsmann backed out, Bradley has faced withering criticism from fans over the team’s play and lack of cohesion. Nonetheless, the US qualified for their sixth straight World Cup on schedule, and Bradley has remained at the helm.

Key Player: Landon DonovanHis loan spell at Everton this year turned a European also-ran into a major star. With Chelsea among the chasers, Donovan has the potential to command the highest transfer fee ever for an American this summer; a strong showing at the World Cup would put him over the top.

Probable Team (4-4-2): Howard; Spector, DeMerit, Onyewu, Bocanegra; Bradley, Clark, Dempsey, Beasley; Donovan, Altidore

World Cup Talentspotter: More details on the playersQ&A: FFT interviews a player from every nation  

FixturesEngland, June 12, 7.30pm, RustenburgSlovenia, June 18, 3pm, JohannesburgAlgeria, June 23, 3pm, Tshwane/Pretoria

Qualified Top in CONCACAF Final StageMexico (H) 2-0El Salvador (A) 2-2Trinidad and Tobago (H) 3-0Costa Rica (A) 1-3Honduras (H) 2-1Mexico (A) 1-2El Salvador (H) 2-1Trinidad and Tobago (A) 1-0Honduras (A) 3-2Costa Rica (H) 2-2

World Cup record1930 Semi-final1934 1st Round1950 1st Round1990 1st Round1994 2nd Round1998 1st Round2002 Quarter-final2006 1st Round

More World Cup stuff: Features * Lists * Interviews Features * News * Interviews * HomeInteract: Twitter * Facebook * Forum