NPSL players talk about the World Cup, sharing their thoughts about the world’s biggest sporting event.

Feature #1

Former World Cup winners in 1966, and one of the more scrutinized teams in the world when it comes to the media, it seems like every four years the expectations are sky high for England.

But with a difficult group that includes Costa Rica and Uruguay, and a loss in the first game against Italy, 2-1, those initial hopes seem just a little bit harder to attain.

For some English fans though, including AFC Cleveland’s own Mikey McGlaughlin, the team still has hope to advance from the group stages, but beyond that things look worrisome.

“I expect England to make it out of the group stages given the relative strength of their squad, but (I) don’t think we have enough world-class players to make any real impact on the tournament in the latter stages,” McGlaughlin said.

“England have consistently produced good players throughout the years, but they seem to be unable to replicate the form they have shown at their domestic club teams for the national team.”

This time in Brazil, England sports a younger, more technical squad than in tournaments past, with youth stars like Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling, Everton’s Ross Barkley and Southampton’s Luke Shaw all hoping to make an impact.

With so many young stars, and strikers Daniel Sturridge and Wayne Rooney, England looks to be at its strongest when attacking an opponent’s goal.

“England have a much better technical base this year then they have had in previous tournaments. There has been a definite shift in focus on training principles in the country over the past ten years, moving away from creating the traditional “athlete” and more towards creating players who have a strong skill-set or “technical” component,” McGlaughlin said. “The national team has reaped the rewards with young players like Raheem Sterling, Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley and (Alex) Oxlade-Chamberlain allowing the team to play a more attractive style of play.”

But with the positives going forward, there seems to be a bit of a weakness at the back, with the lack of two central defenders who had become a staple on the national team.

“The weakness seems to be at center-back with Gary Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling all struggling to prove themselves as world- class players,” McGlaughlin said. “There appears to be a lack of mobility at that position which we have had in previous years with the Rio Ferdinand/John Terry partnership, so I would expect the better teams to exploit this as the tournament progresses.”

McGlaughlin added that however far the English end up making it, it all depends on what happens early on in the group stages.

“If they can find form and a consistency early in the tournament, who’s to say they can’t go on and win the whole thing,” McGlaughlin said. “But I look at teams like Spain and Brazil who have created a genuine playing identity, and (I) don’t think England’s players can replicate that.”

Feature #2

It took all of 29 seconds for the United States Men’s National Team to gain an advantage against Ghana in the opening match of the 2014 World Cup.

An equalizer by the Black Stars, and a late header by U.S. defender John Brooks saw the U.S. capture a hotly contested three points and jump to second in the group on goal differential behind Germany.

But things will only get harder from here as the remaining games against Portugal and Germany seem like daunting tasks for a young U.S. side.

For Vince Bell of AFC Cleveland, the tough schedule makes it difficult to see the U.S. advancing, but in a tournament like the World Cup anything is possible.

“Part of the appeal of soccer and the World Cup is that any team can be beaten, whether it is a stupid mistake, bad luck or they are just outplayed on the day,” Bell said. “It’s not too far fetched for the U.S. to surprise everyone and go on a March Madness Cinderella type run.”

Heading into the tournament a big discussion point wasn’t who was on the roster, but who was left off of it.

With U.S. all-time leading scorer Landon Donovan left off the final roster of 23 by manager Jurgen Klinsmann, some of the other stars were in a position where they needed to step up.

Captain Clint Dempsey had most of the weight rested on his shoulders, and delivered in spades, scoring the opening goal for the U.S.

Bell said he thinks that it is up to Dempsey to see the U.S. advance out of the group, and potentially beyond.

“With Donovan staying home this year, I think it is up to Clint Dempsey to push the U.S. past the group stage,” Bell said. “He is one of the few veterans and is always good for some clutch goals. Dempsey is a consistent player.”

Being a country with a strong emphasis on hand sports (Baseball, basketball and football) the Yanks have a strong history of great goalkeeping, with 2014 being no exception. Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard is expected to be a rock in goal, and will need to be with an inexperienced back four in front of him.

“Klinsmann has made quite a few changes, but the usual U.S. strengths still remain. As a whole, the U.S. Men’s National Team will most likely rely on great goalkeeping, counterattacking, athleticism and fitness to succeed in Brazil,” Bell said. “The youth and lack of depth on the roster are probably the biggest weaknesses of the team.”

With a win against Portugal the U.S. will guarantee a spot in the knockout stages, but with Cristiano Ronaldo running the show that might be easier said than done.

“I would say Portugal is the most important group match for the U.S. Ronaldo is still struggling with an injury,” Bell said.

Ronaldo has been hobbled since the end of the season with Real Madrid, and didn’t look fully fit in the first match against Germany on Monday, but if he can prove healthy he will be a force to be reckoned with for Klinsmann’s squad.

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