Photos and VideosMore Photos and Videos
US national football team midfielder Landon Donovan signs autographs for local school children after an open training session for fans at Pilditch Stadium June 6, 2010. The US is preparing for their 1st game next week in the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
With the World Cup set to kick-off Friday, observers have been obsessively breaking down Team USA's chances of making a mark on the world stage.
The American team has been enigmatic when it comes to international competitions where they have shown an ability to win with style or crash out early.
This year, the team carries high hopes after they stunned the world and made it to the final of the Confederations Cup, a tournament played last year in South Africa that pits the continental champions against each other.
The US began the competition poorly, being drubbed by Italy and Brazil before finding their form and beating number one ranked Spain en route to the final. The team lost to Brazil in the final, but came away with a sense of confidence and a respect from the world soccer community.
Soccer experts predict that the formula coach Bob Bradley found at the Confederations Cup gives the US a good chance of advancing passed the first round of the World Cup for the first time since 2002 when they reached the quarterfinals.
They come into the World Cup ranked 14th in the world -- an unusually high position that reflects their recent run of good play.
"Elevated expectations are new for the Americans, but show the U.S.'s development as a soccer-playing nation," writes Noah Davis of Goal.com, noting that many analysts predict Team USA to win at least two games in the group stages.
"The Americans will win a game in the first round. They should win two. They might even win three," Davis writes. "After that, who knows? Over the past year, the U.S. has proved they can beat every team in the world. The only question is, will they?
The US begins their campaign on Saturday against England, the toughest opponent in their group and a team that is always in the conversation about winning it all. No one expects the USA to win, but a draw is not far-fetched.
"While it would be a stretch to call the group easy, it certainly looks navigable compared to previous tournaments. England is clearly the class of the group, but it is expected that the U.S. will make its way safely past Algeria and Slovenia," ESPN's Jeff Carlisle writes.
Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl predicts a 1-0 result favoring England:
"I expect the U.S. will play cautiously, staying compact as it usually does against top international teams. England will push to get the opening goal, but if that happens I still don’t expect the U.S. will open things up. A 1-0 loss to the group heavyweight wouldn’t be bad for the Yanks’ goal-differential.
Beyond that, Wahl expects the team with beat Slovenia and Algeria by the same scoreline, 2-1. Still he is cautious, noting that both opponents are unpredictable. If the US advances, they will certainly face a stiff challenge in the second round.
"Conventional wisdom says the Americans will finish second in Group C and meet Germany (the expected Group D winner) in the second round," Wahl writes. "I think Serbia will win the group ahead of Germany and meet the U.S. in the Round of 16. It wouldn’t be an easy match-up for the U.S.; Serbia has an excellent back line (including Nemanja Vidic, Neven Subotic and Branislav Ivanovic) and a solid attack involving veteran Dejan Stankovic. Prediction: Serbia 2, U.S. 1."
Bleacherrport.com sees the US coming out of the first round, but losing to Germany in the second.
Alexi Lalas, a prominent member of the 1994 and 1998 US teams and former Major League Soccer executive, said a second round exit would be disappointing.
"I don't even think getting to the second round is something that we should necessarily applaud," Lalas told Goal.com. "I think it's expected this time. I think if this team doesn't get out of this group, American soccer fans should be disappointed, and I would consider it a failure. That's a good situation to be in because not too long ago, people really didn't care. Now there are much higher expectations."
In the end, the World Cup is the most watched sporting event in the world partly because it crackles with suspense: there is no guarantee the giants will win and every iteration sees the rise of a minnow team to higher ranks.
The USA will hope to write that story starting at 2:30 pm EST on Saturday against the Three Lions of England.