Before the U.S. soccer team squares off against Ghana in the first round of World Cup group play, there is much speculation swirling around who head coach Jurgen Klinsmann will place on his 23-man lineup. While the list won't be finalized for a few more months, there are already some notable standouts.
One of the most buzzed-about names in the sport right now is Julian Green. The 18-year-old German-American is being groomed to be the next standout soccer star. Though born in Miami, he was raised in Germany and currently plays for a club team under the Bayern Munich franchise, but his lack of experience may keep him off the field in Brazil.
Who to watch for in the World Cup
Unlike Green, Oguchi Onyewu is a veteran who has been on the USMNT roster since 2005. His dedication has been showing through as he repeatedly plays the same position in an effort to prove himself after suffering a knee injury in 2009. The towering defender brings years of experience that would be a valuable asset to the final team. At 31, Onyewu is looking at the final stretch of his playing career, one that he hopes to cap off with a plane ticket to Brazil in June.
If I were a gambling man, I would say that Michael Bradley's inclusion in the World Cup roster is a safe bet. The defensive midfielder was praised as the best player in the world by Mexico's head coach Miguel Herrera after the 2-2 tie between the U.S. and Mexico at a friendly competition in Arizona. The friendly matches are proving very important for teams to recognize their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as for players to exhibit their skills.
Before World Cup tournament play starts up in Brazil, there are a number of friendly matches taking place right here in the U.S. As players vie for a spot on their respective teams' rosters and coaches continue to tweak their strategies, these games become more and more important as a build-up to the international stage. The FIFA Tournament kicks off on June 12, but fans will have the opportunity to catch their favorite international teams throughout May and early June at stadiums around the country. Here is a rundown of some of the most exciting matchups in the weeks leading up to Brazil:
1. USA vs. Azerbaijan in San Francisco
USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has recently announced that Azerbaijan head coach Berti Vogts will be taking on a special advisor role within the Team USA coaching staff. This makes the matchup of the two teams at Candlestick Park very interesting from a coaching standpoint. As far as gameplay goes, the U.S. is likely to make light work of Azerbaijan, which is currently ranked 93rd in the world and failed to qualify for a spot in the World Cup tournament. Takes place on May 27, 2014.
2. Mexico vs. Ecuador in Arlington, Texas
Currently ranked 21 by FIFA, Mexico will get a real taste of tournament play with their matchup against Ecuador at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. After El Tri's tie with North American rivals Team USA on April 2, the team is energized and looking for a win as they move closer and closer to Brazil. Takes place on May 31, 2014.
3. USA vs. Turkey in Harrison, N.J.
After their Bay Area game, Team USA will head over to Harrison, N.J., where they will duke it out against Turkey in the Red Bull Arena. The Turkish team has a couple very strong players to watch, such as Arda Turan, Nuri Sahin, Burak Yilmaz and Umut Bulut. Their lineup is likely to provide more of a challenge for the United States than Azerbaijan's, though Turkey too failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. Takes place on June 1, 2014.
4. USA vs. Nigeria in Jacksonville, Fla.
This is likely to be the toughest preliminary friendly for the United States. The game at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Fla., will be the last of the friendly matches for Team USA before they head to Brazil for tournament play. The Nigerian Super Eagles are in Group F of the World Cup and are expected to advance. This game will be one of the best tests of the Americans' preparedness for the tournament, as Nigerian players such as Victor Obinna, Shola Ameobi and Obafemi Martins give the U.S. midfield a run for their money. Takes place on June 7, 2014.
5. Portugal vs. Ireland in East Rutherford, N.J.
The shared home of the New York Giants and Jets will play host to Portugal and Ireland for the final international friendly before the start of group play in Brazil. The location is certainly an interesting choice for a team preparing to play in the South American climate of Brazil. Ireland did not qualify for the World Cup but is hoping to give Cristiano Ronaldo and his team a solid match. Takes Place on June 10, 2014.
Which matchup are you looking forward to most?