June 11, 2014
By Steve Lewis - UConn Athletic Communications
STORRS, Conn. - It's the most watched sporting event worldwide. It's the event that brings people together unlike any other. Spectators will laugh, cry, and make noise with anything they can get their hands on. The 2014 FIFA World Cup is upon us, and with it comes big opportunities for the United States National Team.
The United States has never been known for its dedication to the game of soccer, but with each World Cup comes the chance to show the country's progress. Under head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the national team looks to add onto its 2010 World Cup achievement of advancing to the Round of 16.
"To be honest, I think the U.S. has as good of a chance as any team. Anything can happen with soccer, we've seen crazy games happen and not always the best team wins," said current Seattle Sounders goalie and former UConn keeper, Josh Ford.
Chivas USA midfielder and former Husky Carlos Alvarez echoed Ford's sentiment. "I feel they have a very good chance and could make it far, but at the end of the day, they should go game-by-game and day-by-day."
The American team will need a mix of skill and luck to advance out of Group G this year, which has affectionately been named the "Group of Death". Klinsmann will lead his team against two world powers, Germany and Portugal, while also facing Ghana, which has beaten the U.S. in the last two World Cups.
"Our group is considered to be the strongest in the World Cup, so for the U.S. to qualify out of this group would be a real achievement and I think a real success," said John Deeley, the associate head coach of the UConn men's soccer team.
Deeley added, "I think with the opponents that they're playing, they can actually play a good tournament and still not qualify out of the group stage."
This year's tournament marks the 20th time the World Cup has been played and the 10th time the United States has qualified and participated.
The best finish for the United States came in the first-ever World Cup in 1930, when the American squad reached the semifinals, but fell to eventual runner-up Argentina. Since then, the national team has reached the quarterfinals only once, coming in 2002.
Realistic expectations for the national team seem to be anything outside of group play, but after getting through the group stage in 2010, the Americans are looking for more than a "Round of 16" elimination.
"I'm not into the prediction business, but I'm going to pick the U.S. to get out of the group," said Deeley. "I'm staying very optimistic. I think the moral is good within the team, their last friendly match was a good one, so they'll go in there with a lot of confidence."
Team chemistry does not seem to be a problem so far for the Americans, as they won each of their three World Cup friendly matches. Klinsmann's team defeated Azerbaijan (2-0), Turkey (2-1) and Nigeria (2-1) over the course of two weeks on its way to Brazil. The head coach can only hope this momentum makes a difference next week.
"If we have a few good results in the beginning, we can put some pressure on people," said Ford about the team's chances. "I think we can get out of the Group Stage and possibly even go farther. I'm excited to see what's going to happen."
Two of Ford's teammates in Seattle, midfielder Clint Dempsey and defender DeAndre Yedlin, are on the U.S. roster for the World Cup, which means he intends to watch very carefully and cheer them on.
"Everyone is supporting the U.S. and everything that's going on. Especially since we have guys from the club playing on the team, we're going to definitely support them," said Ford.
UConn women's soccer coach Lenny Tsantiris believes soccer in the United States, though currently growing in popularity, must become a more integral part of American culture before the national team will realize its potential on a global scale.
"The more and more kids play, there are more quality players," said the 33-year Husky coach. "I think eventually when our generation moves on and our kid's kids are playing soccer, we will have a culture. That's what we don't have right now."
With other sports getting a majority of the attention in the United States, Tsantiris also mentioned that other countries don't have that type of competition. Soccer is everything in Europe and South America, which is why the development of the sport's culture has progressed in those countries.
"I don't think soccer is going to be, in this century, the number one sport in the United States," said Tsantiris. "But it will be a strong soccer country in the future I believe and I don't doubt that some or one of those World Cups, we can win."
World Cup action begins Thursday, June 12 for host Brazil when they take on Croatia in the tournament's opening game.
The U.S. won't play its first game until Monday, June 16 at 6 p.m. against Ghana in Natal. Matches against Portugal (Sunday, June 22 at 6 p.m.) and Germany (Thursday, June 26 at 12 p.m.) will round out group play for the Americans.