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Few World Cup teams embody the concept of togetherness better than the United States. Unlike the soccer elite, the Americans don't have global superstars but they also don't have to bother with outlandish egos or internal disharmony.
Yet for the 23 men who shoulder the hopes of a nation, this summer's tournament offers the prospect of individual glory and life-changing riches as well as collective success.
It is commonly understood that it will be via a united effort rather than flashes of individual brilliance that the U.S. can flourish in South Africa, with every man having a specific task that must be religiously adhered to.
But with the world tuning in – and the soccer universe gradually opening its eyes to America's talent pool – the next month gives the USA squad the chance to turn themselves into million-dollar babies.
"The World Cup is soccer's ultimate shop window," said Cos Toffis, a leading British-based soccer agent. "Clubs from all over the world are focused on the showcase and it can really open the door for players to boost their profile, especially those from countries with less international recognition."
For established players such as Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, a productive World Cup would enhance the possibility of a lucrative transfer to a bigger club in Europe. Donovan performed well on loan at Everton of the English Premier League earlier this year and Dempsey blossomed at Fulham, but both could become a target for elite English or European teams after the tournament.
For players such as Edson Buddle and Robbie Findley who ply their trade in Major League Soccer, there is no bigger stage upon which to step into the spotlight.
"Of course everyone is out there fighting for the team and fighting for their country," U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra said. "One thing no one can ever question is the motivation and dedication of this team.
"But yes, there is a chance for players to take huge steps in their career at a World Cup. If you show you can perform at this level, then you have answered all the questions and can stand tall. Players who do that deserve everything that comes their way as a result of it and we have seen big moves made after World Cups time and time again."
European clubs with bulging bank accounts routinely bide their time on transfers in World Cup years, waiting to see which surprise stars the tournament unearths. American soccer still awaits its first mainstream hero to emerge and is crying out for someone to fill the void.
It once seemed it could be Freddy Adu before his career imploded to such an extent that he did not even make this year's preliminary 30-man World Cup roster. With soccer's profile growing and this World Cup likely to produce record viewing figures in America, could a Donovan or Dempsey take a seismic leap into the public conscious?
"There is a huge upside for these guys going into the World Cup," said Mark Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd., a Chicago-based firm that specializes in sports economics. "Not only could they get themselves a big-money move to an elite club that is going to throw cash at them, but the potential endorsement value in the American market is significant. But only if the team goes on a big run."
Every World Cup is followed by a series of transfers that defy belief, based almost entirely on performances on the biggest stage of all.
Brazilian star Denilson shattered the world transfer record when Real Betis splashed out more than $32 million for his services following the 1998 event. And countless players from relatively obscure African and Asian countries had the World Cup boost both their profile and their bank balance.
Another factor that could help the Americans post-tournament is that the international soccer community now has a more open mind about players from the U.S. That path was forged by the likes of Donovan, Dempsey and goalkeeper Tim Howard – and Brian McBride before them.
For Donovan, who just a year ago appeared to be mired with the Los Angeles Galaxy for the long term after another failed spell in Germany, the lure of a permanent move to Everton or even a Champions League participant exists.
"This is your ultimate test as a player," Donovan said. "This is how you will be remembered; this is what you will be judged on. It brings pressure but it also gets you ready. The sky is the limit and that goes for every player at the World Cup. What more could you ask for?"
- Landon Donovan
- Clint Dempsey