The strength of the US lies in the midfield. There is a large group of experienced, skillful, and versatile European-based players. Landon Donavan leads the group, and he will probably play on the left wing throughout the tournament. Michael Bradley, although young, has loads of experience from his time in Holland and Germany, and he will anchor the central midfield. Clint Dempsey has really matured since his move to Fulham, and he will spend most of his time on the right side of midfield, although I would push him up front to play off Jozy Altidore.
These three players are guaranteed to start every match. There are several good candidates for the fourth (and possibly fifth) position(s) in the midfield. Bradley will sit deep in the central midfield, but he will spend a lot of time in attack, and he is not really a holding midfielder anyway. This makes it just about certain that defensive-minded manager Bob Bradley will deploy a traditional defensive midfielder alongside Michael Bradley.
There are two principal candidates for this position; Maurice Edu, who plays for Rangers, and Ricardo Clark, who plays (rarely) for Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany. I strongly favor Edu. He is more experienced, more composed on the ball, and far less likely to get sent off. Clark, in fact, is a red card waiting to happen. Those of you with long memories might recall him being sent off for his reckless (and recklessly stupid) challenge on Gennaro Gattuso against Italy in last summer's Confederation's Cup.
If Bob Bradley decides to play a 4-3-3 or 4-5-1, there will be room for another attacking midfielder. This could be an opportunity for one of a few exciting youngsters.
A lot of people would like to see Benny Feilhaber start for the US if this position is available. I don't like him. Just like everyone else, I was excited about his talent when he burst onto the scene. But then he failed at Hamburg. Then he made a big move to Derby, and he failed at Derby. At the same time, he was dropped from the US team because his ego couldn't fit through the door to the changing room. Then he went to Denmark, and he has struggled to make an impression on a team that was relegated in the Danish league. Not a player I want on my team.
I saw Jose Torres play an excellent forty-five minutes against the Czech Republic Tuesday night. He is very composed on the ball, even when under pressure, he is a good passer, and he chips in with the occasional goal. I like him, but there is a problem. He is tiny. 5'5", 135 pounds tiny. He just won't be able to cope with the likes of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in the middle of the park. As a change of pace for the final 20 minutes, I think he will be outstanding, but I just can't see him playing ninety minutes against a physically imposing team like England.
The third promising youngster, and the player whom I think is really going to break out at the World Cup, is Stuart Holden. Now, you may think I am biased because he is a Bolton player, but I had little hope and no expectations that he would be anything more than a reserve team player when Owen Coyle signed him in January. And it looked like I was right when he didn't even make the bench his first month at the club.
But then he got fit, made two game-changing substitute appearances, and was dominant in his first start for the Wanderers. He started against Holland for the US in a friendly and for the first twenty-five minutes he was the most dangerous looking player on the pitch. Then Nigel de Jong broke his leg. But now he is back.
He played 90 minutes against the Czech Republic, half on the wing, half in central midfield, and he was, again, the best player on the pitch. I predict that Holden will be a star. He might not start the first match for the US, but by the final match of the group stage, he will be in the starting XI, no doubt about it.
There is one more wild card in the US midfield; DeMarcus Beasley. He has had an up and down career, and will likely never live up to his potential because of his inconsistency, but he may be crucial to the USA's chances in this World Cup. His experience, his ability to play several positions, his pace, and his knack for scoring (and creating) important goals will be huge coming off the bench.