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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

DaMarcus Beasley, 1 of the Best Players in USMNT History, Retires From International Play

DaMarcus Beasley quietly retired this afternoon from the U.S. men's national team in his typical understated fashion: he let fans know about it by posting a very heartfelt message on his Instagram page. He was the first American to play in four World Cups (2002, 2006, 2010, 2014) and I think the most impressive part of his 121 CAPs (5th all-time) including 11 in the World Cup (2nd all-time) is that he successfully reinvented himself from an outside midfielder to a fullback in his last few years which is almost unheard of (at least going smoothly).

At age 32, Beasley kept himself in great shape since he started in all four World Cup matches for the U.S. last summer in Brazil. During his 14-year career (he debuted in 2001), he won four Gold Cup titles (2002, 2005, 2007, 2013). Since they are from the same generation and ironically are retiring at the same time, it's hard not to compare him a little bit with Landon Donovan. While the latter always got the lion's share of the attention for his goal-scoring and flashy moves, you could argue that Beasley was more consistent throughout his national team duties. What's more, he outlasted Donovan on the U.S. which has to mean something.

Finally, while Donovan mostly failed in his first few business trips to Europe, Beasley became one of the best American exports we've ever seen. He was the first American to score goals for two different clubs in the Champions League (Rangers, PSV Eindhoven) and he holds the USMNT record for Champions League appearances (22). He won two Dutch League championships at PSV and two Scottish titles at Rangers. The guy is a winner and that all-important trait seemed to follow him wherever he went.

He had two stints in MLS: with Chicago and Houston. Beasley is pretty tiny and he was never super skilled but he still put up decent goal (17) and assist (13) totals for the U.S. More importantly, he was extremely low-key and never brought the drama or unnecessary attention upon himself (ahem Landon). He is going to remain with the Dynamo but it will be weird not to see him in a U.S. uniform anymore. Just writing this and thinking about his career made me realize that Beasley was one of my all-time favorite U.S. players. What's not to like about him?

Friday, August 22, 2014

No Problem Tim (Seriously), Take the Next Year Off from the USMNT

If anyone currently on the U.S. men's national team has earned himself a sabbatical, surely it's goalkeeper Tim Howard. This afternoon he made the unexpected decision to take the next year off from the squad to concentrate on his powerhouse club-Everton-while also spending more time with his family. For most players (cough cough Landon Donovan) this would be a recipe for disaster to go away in their prime but there are a few reasons why this makes perfect sense.

Howard is 35 so while he's not getting any younger, his goal of playing at the 2018 World Cup in Russia is attainable (since goalkeepers can hang around forever). Saving himself extra wear and tear with the U.S. should help maintain his legs. Keep in mind that other than the Gold Cup next summer (and really, who cares?) and some random friendlies, the Americans don't have many important matches through next September-when he'd prefer to return.

Also unlike Donovan, you can't doubt Howard's passion for the sport and underlying motivation. Plus, it's not as if he's taking time off just to do nothing or simply hang out/chase women after a divorce. He'll still be the No. 1 goalkeeper for one of the best clubs in England and by extension the world. That'll keep him plenty busy with that and remember that the EPL season (which just started last weekend) goes all the way until May with very few breaks.

Enjoy your USMNT time off Tim, hope you come back refreshed for head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and your teammates. For the next year, Brad Guzan (Aston Villa) figures to be the No. 1 goalkeeper for the U.S. with Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake) backing him up. I've always said that goalkeeping is the one position that we can match up favorably with any other country in the world. Guzan is very good, another starter in the EPL, while Rimando has become one of the top goalkeepers in MLS history.

Their first chance to shine will be on September 3 when the U.S. takes on Czech Republic in Prague. Howard and Everton host Arsenal on Saturday (12:30, NBC) at Goodison Park in arguably the top match of the weekend.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

DeAndre Yedlin Gets It: Heading to Tottenham from Seattle

Regarding the USMNT, nothing pisses me off more than seeing guys either leave Europe and return to MLS (Clint Dempsey) or even worse, never taking that risky plunge and remaining in MLS for possibly their entire careers (Graham Zusi, Matt Besler). That's why today's expected news, long rumored for weeks, that defender DeAndre Yedlin is transferring from Seattle (MLS) to Tottenham (EPL) makes me so happy.

At age 21, Yedlin is just starting to come into his own as a player and I'd argue that nobody on the USMNT saw their stock rise more in Brazil this summer at the World Cup than him. Think about it, nobody really knew who he was going into the tournament (myself included wondered why he was on the 23-man roster) and as it turned out with injuries and poor performances, he was thrust into the spotlight and really made the most of it. He appeared in three games as a substitute, playing nearly 90 minutes in their round of 16 loss to Belgium. On a team lacking creativity, speed and game-breakers, he brought all those elements that so many of his less talented teammates can.

Yedlin will play out the rest of the season with the Sounders then go to Tottenham to start next season, he signed a four-year deal with Spurs-one of the top clubs not only in England but the world. The only way that the U.S. will ever take the next step and truly be a threat to get to a World Cup final and dare I say win one, then they need players like Yedlin willing to test themselves at the highest level rather than remaining in MLS fat and happy.

Will he play much at Tottenham? Probably not at first but still, just training and being at their matches with some of the top players on the planet will bring him far more benefit than dominating in MLS could ever accomplish. Tottenham will pay a $4 million transfer fee to MLS with 75% going to Seattle since Yedlin is a homegrown player (he's from Washington state). USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has to be thrilled that Yedlin is going to one of his many former clubs. It has to tear him up to see other guys stay in the U.S. and never really challenge themselves.

Good luck DeAndre, we know you can do it!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Major Respect to Landon Donovan for Going Out on His Own Terms

I was never a huge Landon Donovan fan but I have to admit that you'd have a hard time coming up with an American men's soccer player that has put together a more impressive professional career. At the ripe old age (yeah right) of 32, Donovan made the surprise announcement this afternoon that he's stepping away from the game that has given him so much (and vice versa) after this MLS season with the LA Galaxy is completed.

You realize how rare this is to see an athlete basically in his prime (although not according to Jurgen Klinsmann) retire before he becomes old and washed up? It's refreshing and it makes me find a whole new level of respect for Donovan. His whole life has been centered around soccer and who are we to tell him when he has to retire or not?

The midfielder/forward is the top goal-scorer in MLS history (138 regular season; 22 postseason, also a record) and U.S. national team history (57 goals, 58 assists in 156 caps) that played in three World Cups (2002, 2006, 2010) where he scored five total goals. He won five MLS Cups between the San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy along with the Golden Boot in 2008 and MLS MVP in 2009.

Not content to simply tear it up in the JV MLS and with the U.S., he stuck with it and tested himself overseas with some of the top teams in Germany (Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich) and England (Everton). Much like life itself, not every stop along the way was smooth or enjoyable but he continued to plug away and eventually left a lasting mark in the EPL with Everton in 2010 and 2012 loan spells.

Getting left off the 23-man roster for this summer's World Cup in Brazil caused plenty of controversy and I have to hand it to him that he didn't let it become too much of a distraction when everyone tried to make it one. He agreed to work as an analyst on ESPN during World Cup coverage, which had to be extremely awkward, but he didn't resort to low-rent tactics of sniping at Klinsmann or others when the U.S. struggled at times and eventually bowed out to Belgium. Clearly he would have helped the team and he should have been there but that's a moot point by now.

When I think of Donovan's illustrious career, two main things will come to mind first in a world of rich memories: 1) the way that Mexican fans absolutely despised him which in a weird way was the ultimate sign of respect; 2) his top moment for my money was the group-clincher vs. Algeria in 2010. That is on the short list of best moments in USMNT history.

In summation, thanks for the memories Landon and enjoy your retirement. You certainly earned it!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Belgium Defeats U.S. Men 2-1 in Extra Time to Advance to 2014 World Cup Quarterfinals

We knew this day was coming but that didn't make it any less disappointing as the U.S. men bowed out in the round of 16 for the second time in a row. The U.S. went to extra time with Belgium scoreless but the Belgians scored twice in the first 15 minutes to take a commanding 2-0 lead. The Americans valiantly battled back and cut it to 2-1 but ultimately ran out of time in Salvador.

Belgium will meet Argentina on Saturday (12, ABC) in the quarterfinals of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the U.S. failed to reach that stage for the third straight World Cup. Tim Howard proved that he's still one of the top goalkeepers on the planet. He made 16 saves, a modern record, and he was the only reason that the U.S. even had a chance to steal this. Belgium had 18 more shots on goal (27-9) and 15 more corner kicks (19-5) which is absurd.

Still, the U.S. could have pulled this out a couple different ways. Chris Wondolowski completely bungled a wide open shot in stoppage time to end regulation. Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku was the difference maker as he came on as a late substitute and assisted on Kevin De Bruyne's goal in the 93rd minute then put the dagger in the U.S.' hopes with a backbreaking tally in the 105th minute.

Julian Green's first ever World Cup appearance was more than a footnote for the U.S. as he scored a sweet one-time volley from Michael Bradley in the 107th minute. Suddenly the Americans had life again and it was remarkable how many other chances they had before the final whistle. The best was a perfectly executed free kick from outside the box that ended with Clint Dempsey one-on-one with Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois but his shot was stopped.

I am not making excuses but simply stating facts that lack of depth certainly hurt. Jozy Altidore's injury along with Fabian Johnson going down with a similar hamstring strain in the first half tonight (what's with that?) really hurt the U.S. Without Altidore, Dempsey had to play out of position and Johnson gave the U.S. defense an offensive spark that they lacked without him.

This World Cup served to magnify the quite obvious strengths and weaknesses of the Americans. When we play top countries, our lack of technical skill and time of possession make it virtually impossible to win. We can count on having a great goalkeeper-that's been a given for years-but field players are another story. Also, our spirit and compete level is off the charts good. We never give up which sounds like a stupid cliché until you watch all these other supposed great teams (England, Portugal, etc.) that crumble or go in the tank immediately when things aren't going their way. This is Year 3 of Jurgen Klinsmann being in charge and I'd have to say he's been wildly successful for the most part.

Do you really believe an American head coach would have steered them out of Group G with Ghana, Portugal and Germany? I think not. I don't believe in moral victories for adults and I am frustrated along with everyone else that they couldn't get further but you have to understand how far we've come and also still how much we have to improve to legitimately challenge for a World Cup in our lifetimes.

I am a realist, I know that soccer will never be the most popular sport in America and I'm fine with that. I never try to force it on anyone but I am always psyched when people come around to it naturally and realize all the things that we love about the beautiful game. In fact, I will be the first to criticize many aspects of the game (flopping, low scoring, lack of action). However, you can't tell me there is a better sporting event in the world than this. With each successive World Cup that we do well in, that surge in popularity and interest can only help our national team progress beyond the Round of 16 and always being the underdog against top teams.

Klinsmann's job is no simple task: revamping the national team along with the young programs and general mindset of our top players. I have the utmost confidence that he's the right guy to do it and I'm happy that U.S. soccer realizes they have to let him (hopefully) work his magic.

Record numbers of viewers tuned into all the U.S. games and it's clear that soccer is more popular in the States than ever before. So how do we keep that momentum going when the next World Cup won't be for another four years? I can't say that MLS will receive a big boost since who cares about that? If you like the U.S. national team, there is plenty of stuff between now and then (hopefully the World Cup will be moved from Qatar to the U.S.): Gold Cup, Confederations Cup, World Cup qualifying and international friendlies. Plus, the Women's World Cup is next summer in Canada where the U.S. will be the favorite to win it. If you are getting into soccer, don't stop consuming it. There are a million different ways to stay involved in it, you don't have to sit around for four boring years.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

USMNT Gets The Job Done: Advances To the Knockout Round for the 2nd World Cup in a Row

It was not a memorable match by any means since the U.S. men's national team basically held on for dear life the entire time, but when the final whistle blew at Arena Pernambuco in Recife this afternoon that hardly mattered. The Americans had booked a spot in the knockout round of the 2014 World Cup via a 1-0 loss to Germany coupled with a 2-1 Portugal win over Ghana.

The Americans finished in second place in Group G (behind Germany) with four points and a goal-differential of zero. Portugal and Ghana both go home while the U.S. meets Group H winner Belgium on Tuesday (4, ESPN) in the round of 16. Germany plays Algeria on Monday with the elimination games beginning on Saturday while we all get a welcome day off tomorrow following two straight weeks of incredible soccer.

This is the first time ever that the U.S. has made the knockout round in back-to-back World Cups so there is plenty to celebrate, especially when you consider the supposedly great teams that are already gone: Spain, Italy and England to name a few.

Germany controlled the ball the entire way but at least had nothing to show for it in a scoreless first half. The one real good chance for the U.S. came on a curling shot from the top of the box by Graham Zusi that just went over the crossbar. Unlike fraudulent Portugal which was ranked No. 4 for no good reason, Germany is legitimately recognized as the No. 2 team in the world.

At some point, the talent of a team like that will eventually take over. Tim Howard had just made a diving stop when the rebound went out to Thomas Mueller. His one-timed rocket from distance went into the corner of the net. It was a breathtaking strike, his fourth of the tournament which ties him for the lead with Brazil's Neymar and Argentina's Lionel Messi.

From there, it didn't matter that much if Germany scored again. It was more about what happened in the other match (going on at the same time) which makes it even tougher to take. Ghana was the bigger threat to the U.S. since Portugal buried themselves with the opening 4-0 loss to Germany. Cristiano Ronaldo's late goal for Portugal basically sealed the U.S.' fate so I guess we have to take all the nasty stuff we said about him.

After defending the whole game against a superior opponent, in the pouring rain, credit to the U.S. for conjuring up a couple near goals in the dying minutes. Their best passing sequence of the group stage almost resulted in a beautiful goal by Alejandro Bedoya but it was stopped by the sliding German defense. Clint Dempsey had a header from feet away that somehow went over the net. Oh well, bring on Belgium.

I don't fear Belgium nearly as much as I did Germany. They are one of the top teams in the world these days but they are new to these lofty heights so as far as the national team goes, they really don't have much big game experience. We'll see if that plays a role on Tuesday but I feel like if the United States plays up to their capabilities, they could surprise Belgium since make no mistake, the U.S. will be the underdog.

The winner of U.S.-Belgium meets the winner of Argentina-Switzerland (12, ESPN) which precedes it on Tuesday. That quarterfinal match is on July 5. The U.S. lost in the round of 16 to Ghana in 2010 and they've only reached the quarterfinals once in the modern era (2002). Therefore the next few days' worth of hype is well deserved and it would really be something for the sport in this country if they can get past the Belgians to possibly have a shot at Messi (the best player in the world) and Argentina-another top team.

UPDATE 6/27: Jermaine Jones broke his nose yesterday in a collision with teammate Alejandro Bedoya but the good news is that it sounds like he'll still be able to play vs. Belgium. He is carrying a yellow card along with Kyle Beckerman and Omar Gonzalez into the Belgium match. Those only clear when you reach the semifinals.

Monday, June 23, 2014

U.S. Blows Late Lead, Draws 2-2 With Portugal Setting Up A Huge Match vs. Germany

It should tell you something about the rapid rise of the U.S. men's soccer team under head coach Jurgen Klinsmann that a 2-2 tie vs. Portugal this afternoon at Arena Amazonia in Manaus, Brazil was seen as very disappointing. We feel this way because the Americans had all the power in their hands as they could have booked their trip to the knockout round with a win while Portugal would have been eliminated from the 2014 World Cup if they had lost.

Instead, after allowing the tying goal in the 95th minute on Varela's header from Cristiano Ronaldo, the U.S. faces the grim challenge of Germany on Thursday (12, ESPN) in their final group stage match. A win or tie against the Germans would do the trick but the U.S. can also advance with a loss: 1) coupled with a tie in Ghana-Portugal or 2) better goal-differential than whoever wins the other match. You couldn't ask for much more in terms of excitement since all four teams in Group G are still alive.

This was a fantastic contest and since it was on a Sunday night in primetime, I predict they received record ratings in the U.S. It was the type to pull in a casual fan and hopefully hook them enough that they check out the Germany match and possibly some others. What is it about the beginning and ends of games for the U.S.? They are always filled with drama.

After Geoff Cameron's clearing attempt went horribly awry-deflecting right to Nani in the fifth minute-the Manchester United product showed the finishing skills that he's lacked for the past year with both his club and country. The U.S. trailed at halftime in the rainforest which was certainly alarming since they were 0-14-1 when trailing at halftime at the World Cup (they tied Slovenia in 2010). Meanwhile, Portugal had been 8-0-0 when ahead at halftime.

Unlike vs. Ghana, the U.S. looked solid from the start (save for Cameron's blunder). They owned more possession and were unlucky to be down to the team that FIFA ranks as the fourth best in the world (haha yeah right!) The Americans tied it in the 64 minute on an absolute howler by midfielder Jermaine Jones. It easily has to go down as one of the prettiest that the U.S. has ever scored on as he wound up from way behind the 18-yard box and put it in the corner with serious pace.

A tie would have been ok but credit to Klinsmann and his team for continuing to go for the three points. They were handsomely rewarded in the 81st minute when Clint Dempsey's re-directed Graham Zusi's cross with his stomach. Not his chest, I can't say I have ever seen that kind of maneuver. In a sense, the U.S. was fortunate to be leading at that point since Portugal had blasted a shot off the post and Tim Howard made a spectacular reaction save on the followup.

Ronaldo hadn't done much all day so it figures that the top player in the world showed up when it mattered most: Michael Bradley capped off his tough day (he should have scored an easy goal earlier in the second half) by turning the ball over in midfield. The Portuguese quickly counterattacked (albeit 5-on-7) then Ronaldo whipped in the cross that Varela perfectly hit past Howard.

If we're being honest, this game probably was most deserving of a draw. Germany and the U.S. are tied atop Group G with four points while the Germans have a superior goal differential (+4) to the Americans (+1). Ghana (-1 goal differential) and Portugal (-4 goal differential) each have a point. Leading up to Thursday, I can guarantee that most sane fans and media will expect Germany to win. The good news is that tough situations like that where people are doubting them the most seems to be when the U.S. plays its best. Four points against Ghana and Portugal is admirable but the U.S. still has plenty of work to do to prepare for Germany (who have an extra day of rest) and get a result that will keep them alive.

Friday, June 20, 2014

As Expected, Jozy Altidore Will Miss the Portugal Match

Today the U.S. soccer federation confirmed what we all could have guessed back on Monday: striker Jozy Altidore (strained left hamstring) will be out on Sunday when the U.S. meets Portugal (6, ESPN) in Manaus. Obviously, two important followup questions come with us but the problem is that at least for now we have no idea who will replace him in the lineup (either Aron Johannsson or Chris Wondolowski) or if Altidore will play another match at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Even without Altidore, who is far from their best player but still one of the most irreplaceable (if that makes sense), I think that the U.S. has a good chance to beat Portugal. It sounds like Matt Besler's hamstring injury is much less severe than Altidore so he should be able to play while Clint Dempsey will also compete whether he has to wear a goofy mask or not.

The U.S. clearly have their issues and Altidore's absence can't be underestimated but few would disagree when I say that Portugal is much more of a mess. Defender Pepe is suspended after receiving a red card vs. Germany, right back Fabio Coentrao is out for the rest of the tournament and forward Hugo Almeida's status is uncertain after he left early with an injury in the 4-0 German beatdown.

It is a must-win for Portugal, they can't afford another lost particularly with that brutal scoring differential starting them in the face. I think another win for the U.S. would basically clinch a spot in the knockout round since I can't see Ghana beating Germany (they play on Saturday).

Sunday is shaping up to be a huge day for U.S. soccer and it's sure to get monster ratings in that primetime slot. Let's hope the U.S. can continue this wave of positive momentum for the sport in this country, after all everybody loves a winner.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

U.S. Finally Solves Its Ghana Issue at the World Cup

It only took three tries but the U.S. men's national team found a way to beat Ghana at a World Cup. What better way to open up their 2014 experience in Brazil than with a thrilling 2-1 victory over Ghana at Estadio Das Dunas in Natal? Ever since the fateful draw in December, we knew that if the U.S. was going to have any chance to advance from Group G, they had to beat Ghana (the same team that had eliminated them in the past 2 World Cups with 2-1 defeats). 21-year-old German-born defender John Brooks was the unlikeliest of heroes for Jurgen Klinsmann as he scored the game-winning goal in the 86th minute-a header from Graham Zusi's on-the-money corner kick. It was the first goal scored by an American substitute in World Cup history, how's that possible?

The fact is that 85% of teams who win their opening match advance to the knockout stage while ESPN's trusted Soccer Power Index gives them a 63% chance after the huge three points. There are many aspects that made this such a sweet victory: Ghana's Andre Ayew had tied it at one in the 82nd minute so this looked like a draw or maybe even loss for the U.S. since they had basically defended the entire match after Clint Dempsey scored the fastest goal in U.S. history (32 seconds in!) and became the first American to score at three World Cups. There were an absurd amount of injuries for the Americans: Jozy Altidore went down with what looked like a serious hamstring injury in the 23rd minute, Dempsey's nose was broken with a high kick to the face and Besler was switched at halftime before he got seriously hurt.

Ghana owned a 59%-41% advantage in possession although truthfully it felt way higher. That's not normally a sound strategy to win at major tournaments but the U.S. made it work since Ghana didn't put together too many great chances, usually bungling passes or losing it in the attacking third. They took 21 shots but only eight landed on goal and Tim Howard was under considerable pressure but he didn't have to be Superman. Ghana got increasingly frustrated as midfielder Mohammed Rabiu picked up a yellow card in the 30th minute and midfielder Sulley Muntari was booked in the 92nd minute. An added bonus is that the U.S. didn't receive any cards, congrats Jermaine Jones!

Altidore will be evaluated more tomorrow and we have to hope that it wasn't as serious as it looked. Aron Johannsson came on for Altidore and despite playing 72 minutes, I can't remember him making a single positive play for the U.S. That's not to say he was terrible, he just didn't do anything to stand out in his first career World Cup appearance. Keep in mind that the striker from Iceland is only 23.

The U.S. is off until Sunday (6, ESPN) when they meet Portugal who got crushed 4-0 vs. Germany earlier this afternoon. That will certainly be a tough match but it doesn't look quite as imposing as we probably expected for a couple reasons: 1) Portuguese defender Pepe received a red card so he's out; 2) forward Hugo Almeida and defender Fabio Coentrao were both subbed out with injuries. Their status is something to monitor in the coming days. Portugal will be desperate and seeking to score many goals (to dig out of their brutal -4 goal differential) while the U.S. would be happy with a tie but a win would essentially put them through. Ghana plays Germany on Saturday (3, ESPN), good luck with that!

Who else already has a case of World Cup fever?

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Landon Donovan's Summer Suddenly Got Much Less Busy

The 2014 FIFA World Cup starts three weeks from today (!) and the U.S. men released their 23-man roster set to go to Brazil. The normally joyous occasion was marked by controversy as star midfielder Landon Donovan (the U.S.' all-time leading goal scorer) was surprisingly left off after appearing in the past three World Cups. We already knew that head coach Jurgen Klinsmann had German balls of steel but this move certainly shows that he's not afraid to take a different approach than most.

I trust Klinsmann and his assistant coaches' judgment that Donovan wasn't in good enough form to make it (midfield is the U.S.' deepest position) and I just hope that this doesn't remain the main focus for everyone when they get to Brazil. Should the Americans lose (a near certainty), let's not pretend that simply having Donovan would have changed everything. Klinsmann will have to answer plenty questions about this subject tomorrow (as he should), but after that it's time to move forward with this group.

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

DEFENDERS (8): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Nürnberg), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC)

MIDFIELDERS (8): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Jermaine Jones (Besiktas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

FORWARDS (4): Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

After naming the 30-man preliminary roster on May 12, the following seven players have been released from the U.S. MNT’s training camp: forwards Terrence Boyd and Landon Donovan, midfielders Joe Corona and Maurice Edu, and defenders Brad Evans, Clarence Goodson and Michael Parkhurst. The seven remaining players have been placed on a standby list and are returning to their respective club teams.

The U.S. has three warmup matches stateside before things get real: they play Azerbijan next Tuesday in San Francisco (10, ESPN2), Turkey a week from Sunday (2, ESPN2) at Red Bull Arena then they close with Nigeria (the only team of the three also heading to Brazil) on June 7 (6, ESPN) in Jacksonville.

Ever since that nightmare draw for the U.S. in December, I have purposely not gotten my hopes up at all in terms of them advancing out of the group stage. It certainly could happen, don't get me wrong, but I just am leery of setting myself up for painful disappointment. I think it is as simple as seeing what happens in the U.S.' first match, vs. Ghana on June 16 (6, ESPN). If they win, great. If they tie or especially if they lose, goodnight. The best they can hope for vs. Portugal on June 22 (6, ESPN) is a draw while the final match vs. Germany on June 26 (12, ESPN) is all but guaranteed to be a loss. Got it? Let's go U.S.!