Star: With Landon Donovan controversially off the roster and Clint Dempsey losing a lot of his cache from a year or two ago, our most recognizable star (with an endorsement or two to prove it) is Tim Howard. A solidly middle class kid from New Jersey who thrives on challenges and has overcome Tourette's syndrome to be a world class keeper.
Hip-Star: A lot of people have focused on the host of talented young players learning the ropes in defense and on the front lines. But enough about the future, let's appreciate a throw back: while he's unlikely to start, Mix Diskeruud is a perfect throw-back to American players of old. Blessed with energy, pace, gumption and a crazy hair style, he's a great example of American punk-kid playing in the old fart European game. So keep your German connections, we're rooting for the Norwegian.
X-Factor: The US has the single longest road to travel of every team at the cup, ping-ponging from southernly Sao Paolo to the Northeast, the Northwest and center of Brazil for all three matches. Jet lag is coming, one can only hope endurance is too.
Coach: Few players had as much thorough success at destroying American soccer fan hopes and dreams as Jürgen Klinsmann. I can still clearly remember his devastating second goal against the Americans in 1998 that began a slow decline to last place in the whole tournament. Now in charge of the squad, he's prized youth, athleticism and energy above experience and comfort, and has been rewarded with a 60% winning percentage.
History: Over the past 20 years, American soccer has slowly climbed from entertaining afterthought to a valued piece of our sports landscape--at least, valued by younger fans who don't succumb to fuddy-duddy reporter dismissals of the subject. Qualification isn't noteworthy, it's expected, and soon it seems we'll expect to make the second stage of every world competition. Whether or not we can catch quarterfinal lightning in a bottle as we did in Japan/Korea has yet to be seen.
Food: Like Switzerland, the US has a hodgepodge of flavors in our "cuisine", and while we're fans of all things sausage--hot dogs anyone?--it's hard to avoid the simplicity of American as Apple Pie.
Fool: No doubt about it, America has their share of stupid politicians: the ignorant, the arrogant, and the corrupt. But rather than slam the Tea Party as a whole, we'll pick on the American government's representative at the games: Vice President/National Crazy Uncle Joe Biden. All the malaprops, the profanities, the cranky old-man mannerisms, and best of all--the Onion articles awaiting every match.
Best Case: With focus and energy of Klinsmann we can get over the hump against Ghana, and stun Portugal before the mandatory loss to Germany. If you can beat Portugal, you can top Belgium, and from there you just have to hope that Argentina has an injury, but more than likely you should just appreciate the Quarterfinals.
Worst Case: Jürgen's presence is a clear reminder of 1998...and in the worst case, it's not the only one. An opening embarrassment leads to an unstoppable slide into another goalless 4th place finish.
My prediction: Pleased as I am to see the US of A firmly entrenched as a World Cup participant, and burgeoning soccer power, I'm not naive. Ghana is our boogeyman, Portugal is our patsy of the year, and Germany is...well...Germany. We're close to hanging with the big boys, but not this close. 4th Place--3 points
Added Bonus: As the birthplace of hip-hop we have more than our share of likely candidates for this spot, but we'll give credit to Action Bronson for "It's Me" largely for working "Zinadine Zidane" into his rhyme.