Photo: wjarrettc

A lot has changed for the US national team since the last World Cup. But could they be contenders in 2010?

For the sixth time in a row, America is going to the World Cup. Since beating El Salvador on September 5, the US selection has been sitting in first place in their region, with two qualifiers left.

Barring a colossal, last-minute collapse, the US is going to South Africa. How much they’ll be able to achieve there is harder to say.

Compared to much of FIFA, the US is still no soccer juggernaut. The selection has yet to win a major FIFA tournament. In the last World Cup, they weren’t able to make it past the preliminaries.

Still, they’re not the underdogs that they were four years ago. 2009 saw the US achieve one of its best results ever, a second-place finish in the Confederations Cup. As the selection prepares for South Africa, they’re commanding more respect than they have at any point in recent memory.

Photo: wjarrettc

New team, old problems

What haven’t changed much in the past four years are the US team’s weaknesses.

The Americans have had the same problems with tepid offense and second-half laziness in recent qualifiers against El Salvador and Mexico as they had in Germany.

If coach Bob Bradley wants to do better than a first-round exit this time around, he’ll have to straighten out his attack first.

Backing him up is a squad that mixes vets like Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan with promising new talent. 19-year-old forward Jozy Altidore currently leads the squad in scoring, with five goals in qualifying, including a hat trick against Trinidad and Tobago.

The squad’s main strength is still its talent in goal, where keeper Tim Howard has been performing every bit as well as his predecessor Kasey Keller since being promoted from the second string. Defender Jonathan Spector has also played a big role in closing up the holes in defense that have caused problems for the US in international play.

Photo: wjarrettc

The US national team in brief:

Coach: Bob Bradley
FIFA ranking: 11
Ranking in CONCACAF region: 1
Best finish in World Cup play: 3rd place (1930)
Biggest win in 2010 qualifiers: 3-0 vs. Trinidad and Tobago
Biggest loss in 2010 qualifiers: 1-3 vs. Costa Rica
Key players: Tim Howard (Everton), Jozy Altidore (Hull City), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United)

Community Connection

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Be sure to check back soon for our next World Cup profile: the South Korea-North Korea soccer rivalry.