By Joshua Robinson, SI.com
Landon Donovan is in the form of his life and determined to redeem himself after a poor performance in the 2006 World Cup.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
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Is this the tournament where Landon Donovan finally comes of age? After an MVP-caliber season in MLS and a sharp, gritty loan spell with Everton, his form seems to be peaking just in time. But Donovan, trying to banish the ghosts of a disappointing 2006 World Cup, will carry more responsibility than ever before. Coach Bob Bradley will be counting on the 28-year-old midfielder to provide much of the leadership on the field for what could be the United States' youngest World Cup squad since 1994.
The team will also be relying heavily on the creative verve of Clint Dempsey to get service to Jozy Altidore, and even toss in a couple goals of his own. The past year has seen the Fulham man come into his own as a creative midfielder, steeled by his time in the Premier League. Since starring at the Confederations Cup last summer, he scored nine times for Fulham and was a vital contributor on the Cottagers' way to the Europa League final.
As the world saw in the Confederations Cup, an in-form Tim Howard between the posts can make all the difference. A world-class shot-stopper with real presence in the penalty area, Howard at his best can soak up a lot of pressure - just ask Spain, who experienced it firshand last summer in South Africa.
What to watch for
When the United States toppled England in the 1950 World Cup, it went down as one of the greatest upsets of all time. If it can repeat the feat on June 12 in Rustenburg, it won't be quite so earth-shattering. Expectations have grown for this American squad, thanks in no small part to last summer's Confederations Cup run, and so has the pressure on coach Bradley to deliver more of the same.
But he is faced with uncertainty all over the lineup. There is still no clear candidate to partner Altidore up front and injuries have left the team rusty at the back. Carlos Bocanegra underwent hernia surgery in early May, Oguchi Onyewu has not played a meaningful game since Oct. 14 -- when he ruptured a tendon in his left knee -- and Jay DeMerit is still struggling with an abdominal strain.
Still, they're going to have a lot of work on their hands if the U.S. takes the counterattacking approach they tend to use against the better sides. As for teams such as Algeria that seem weaker on paper it will be interesting to see if the U.S. is organized enough to jump on top early and keep possession for long stretches, something it has not always been capable of in recent World Cup campaigns. Whatever the case may be, expect Donovan and Dempsey to be in charge of directing traffic.
Key match in group stage
It would be easy to pick out England as the United States' key match, if only because it is the biggest test. Except that game probably won't make or break the Americans' chances of surviving Group C. Since its last game is against Algeria, the group's weakest team, the U.S. hopes will hang on the game against Slovenia, a side that could deliver a surprise. And the reward for finishing second in the group? A possible second-round tie with Germany.
Celebrity scouting report: Weezer's Rivers Cuomo*
Donovan performing well is crucial. He doesn't necessarily have to lead the whole team by himself, but he's really been a difference in determining games. Dempsey can do that as well. I really like Benny Feilhaber right now, too. Clint Mathis is one of my all-time favorites. I wish he were still in the picture. ... I was such a giant fan of Bruce Arena. I was so bummed when he left and I still haven't really adjusted to the team without him. I'm not a tactics expert, but we seem like we're still relying on our superior fitness and grit. I'd like to see us develop into a team that can play against teams that really hold the ball well. But at the same time, I'm not the negative, critical type of fan at all. Once the team is set, I'm going to support them. I'll be there 100 percent. I know a lot of U.S. fans aren't like that. I have to deal with that sort of thing with my band a lot, too. ... These injuries are such a big question mark. I hope some of these guys are able to make it back in time. How will we do without Charlie Davies? I don't know. That's our Achilles heel, that striker spot. We finally got somebody who can work some magic up there and he gets totally taken out. Can Altidore do it? I hope so. ... The Confederations Cup was really unbelievable. I was so proud of our team. I think that experience will help us more than anything else. If for some reason, we go up 2-0 against a team like Brazil in this World Cup, these guys have been through that and hopefully they've learned how not to screw that up.
*The Connecticut native proudly boasts that he was in attendance for Donovan's first U.S. cap, a friendly vs. Mexico at the L.A. Coliseum in 2000. Weezer's new album, Raditude, is in stores now. As told to SI.com.