1. How will Team USA respond to the hostile environment? In this tournament, they will be the team to root against, no matter who is playing against them. This will be especially important for the players who have never played on foreign soil. While players may say that most of the games during the Gold Cup felt like away games, this will be a whole different ball game. Violent riots and police carrying machine guns aren’t something you see at American soccer games.
A lot of the mental aspect of these games will be determined by the team’s reaction to what basically amounts to a whole new world for them.
2. Who will step up to lead this team? You would have to start with Gold Cup final hero Benny Feilhaber. At 22, this could be his opportunity to show both Coach Bob Bradley and his fellow teammates that he his ready to lead them into battle. Carlos Bocanegra seems to have locked down the captain’s armband, but strong leaders on teams are always needed.
The match up of Feilhaber and Juan Riquelme should be one to watch as well. Feilhaber isn’t a better midfielder, but it will be interesting to see how he matches up with him. The other person to look for should be Jimmy Conrad. The USA defense will be facing tough opposing offense, and because our defense is young and inexperienced, Conrad must show leadership, and provide a sense of calmness on the back line, otherwise this team is in trouble.
3. Who is on the hot seat? I hate to use a Sportscenter line, but there are a few players who need to have good showings, or else this national team call up could be their last. Eddie Johnson and Taylor Twellman must prove that they can provide the US Team with a scoring threat, otherwise they could lose their spots on the national team.
Under 20 forwards Jozy Altidore and Johann Smith should be ready to take over by 2008 or 2009, so this leaves Johnson and Twellman very little time. When you consider that Brian Ching is now healthy, and Kenny Cooper, when healthy, is also in the mix, the situation becomes even more dire for the MLS star pair.
4. And last, but not least, what should we expect from the team during this tournament? Nobody should expect this team to win the tournament. That would be great, but it probably will not happen. This team should be able to win at least one of its group stage matches, but even if they don’t, we should expect them to at least compete in this tournament. At this point, because the senior roster isn’t playing, learning and competing should be all that matters. This is a solid chance for many of the players on this team, and hopefully they can step up and show the world what they are made of.