As soccer gets serious in the States, scrutiny has intensified and expectations have soared. Meet the men of Team USA, who'll take on the world in South Africa
A regular starter for M√∂nchengladbach in Germany, the U.S. coach's son long ago put to rest questions of nepotism. His vision and midfield tackling are critical, but he must avoid the mental mistakes that saw him suspended for decisive matches in the 2007 Gold Cup, '08 Olympics and '09 Confederations Cup. Improved stamina should help him cut down on risky late-game challenges.
The Green Bay native went from MLS reject playing in London Sunday pub leagues to Premier League starter. His national team breakthrough came at the '09 Confederations Cup, where he was a key to the upset of world No. 1 Spain. What the Watford center back lacks in pedigree and ball skills he makes up for with smarts and raw desire.
A strong performance at the 2009 Confederations Cup earned the 6'4" center back a move to AC Milan, but he ruptured his left patellar tendon in October and is in a race to shake off the rust before facing Wayne Rooney and England on June 12.
A native of Longview, Texas, who plays for Pachuca in the Mexican league, the kid known as El Gringo has struggled to adapt to the faster pace of the U.S. game. But with his East Texas flair and poise on the ball, he could be a huge asset if the U.S. needs to push forward and create scoring chances.
The Brazilian-born Feilhaber scored one of the most memorable U.S. goals ever—a majestic 22-yard volley to beat Mexico and win the 2007 Gold Cup—but hasn't hit the net for the U.S. since. Having found regular playing time in Denmark, he made his way back into the national team in '09 and provides a skillful touch off the bench.
Beasley burst onto the scene as a lightning-fast 20-year-old winger at the '02 World Cup, but injuries and spotty form with Rangers in Scotland meant he needed a last-ditch resurgence to make his third Cup squad. He rarely beats defenders one-on-one anymore but has the grit to track back on D. His new jewelry line is called the DaMarcus Collection.
Findley was Bob Bradley's biggest roster surprise, proof that the coach values his speed; the Real Salt Lake star's second-half play in Sunday's 2--1 sendoff defeat of Turkey was a revelation. His first cousins include Hawks guard Mike Bibby and Steelers receiver Shaun McDonald.
Holden, who moved from MLS to Bolton in the Premiership in January, serves the best cross of the right-sided midfielders and has a knack for taking dangerous set pieces. He'll push to start if Clint Dempsey moves up top, but is he seasoned enough for this tournament?
The towering 6'4" center back has improved dramatically since a move to Norway in 2008 and provides solid cover in the middle. After leaving the University of Maryland early, Goodson is using his MLS Generation Adidas money to earn a degree in religion online from Liberty University.
Named after Pelé (né Edson Arantes do Nascimento), Buddle has looked downright Brazilian this year, scoring nine times to lead MLS and force his way into the 23. He works well with L.A. teammate Landon Donovan, but can his sizzling scoring jag continue in South Africa?
Spector has been the U.S.'s first-choice right back for most of the past year but struggled with one-on-one defense for West Ham this season and isn't particularly fast. Strong suits include versatility—he can play anywhere on the back line—prowess moving forward and a potent early cross.
The latest U.S. keeper to move to Europe, Guzan apprenticed behind Brad Friedel at Aston Villa last season. The apparent No. 2 behind Tim Howard, he has performed well for the U.S. when called upon, especially during last year's 3--0 takedown of African champ Egypt.
An explosive shot stopper, Howard has significantly improved his handling of crosses and corners—a onetime weakness—over his seven seasons with Manchester United and Everton in the Premier League. The New Jersey native and former MetroStar is an active spokesman for Tourette's syndrome awareness. He's one of the most prominent athletes in the world to be afflicted with the neurological disorder.
A hard worker who'll push for a starting central spot, Clark took a risk by moving from MLS to Eintracht Frankfurt in January, but he fought past injuries to earn playing time and a three-year contract extension. He sometimes lacks sharpness with his passes but can unleash a powerful long-range shot, as he did to score an important goal in a qualifier at Trinidad last year.
The U.S. captain can play at left back or in central defense and is a threat to score with his head on set pieces. A regular for Rennes in the French first division, Bocanegra is smart positionally but isn't speedy—an increased concern after his sports-hernia surgery on May 5. But he's fearless, willing to sacrifice his body and respected by his teammates for his quiet leadership.
He listens to Tool and Slipknot, restores old Porsches and maintains an extensive gun collection, but Hahnemann can play, too. According to England's Opta statistical survey, the Wolverhampton vet's save percentage (79.7) was best of any regular keeper in the Premiership.
Not a single MLS team wanted Gomez after he rode the bench for Kansas City in 2009, but he staged a stunning surge upon joining Mexico's Puebla, becoming the first American to lead a foreign league in scoring and setting himself up for a supersub role in South Africa. Herculez's brother Ulysses is an MMA fighter.
The 5'6" Cherundolo has built an 12-year career at Hannover based on solid defense at right back and the ability to range forward and serve an early and accurate cross. He's one of three members of the squad, along with DaMarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan, to be chosen for his third World Cup.
A spirited box-to-box player who can fill in at center back in a pinch, Edu distributes adequately and knows big-game pressure, having taken part in Glasgow's famed Old Firm for Rangers against Celtic. Off the field he's begun dabbling in music as a producer in Scotland.
A hero in Honduras after his last-second goal against Costa Rica sent the Catrachos to South Africa, Bornstein would settle for a gaffe-free World Cup at left back, the weakest U.S. position. The converted forward can get caught out of position but has speed and ball skills.
The six-time U.S. player of the year has found a role at left midfield for coach Bob Bradley that allows him to exploit his speed to cut inside and run at defenders. Donovan can be deadly on the counterattack, as Brazil learned in last year's Confederations Cup final.
The Fulham mainstay walks a fine line between brilliance on the ball and the unforced giveaway. Whether positioned on the right flank or up top, Dempsey must be on his game for the U.S. to reach its potential. Of all the Americans, he's the most likely to produce a piece of wizardry.
The tightly-wound New Jerseyan is a more European-style X's-and-O's coach than his predecessor, Bruce Arena. When he has his first-choice team—as in CONCACAF qualifying and at the '09 Confed Cup—Bradley can be a formidable big-tournament coach.
After setting an MLS record with his $10 million transfer to Villarreal in 2008, Altidore has struggled in Europe; he scored just one league goal while on loan to England's Hull City last season. A son of Haitian immigrants, Altidore has the physique of a free safety and has learned to sell a penalty better than any other American player—a useful skill at the international level.
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Photographs by SIMON BRUTY