Not even the most optimistic United States soccer fan would dare to dream of making it to the final of the World Cup next month, but in one sense at least, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann may have a squad perfectly built for World Cup success.
While most predictions have the U.S. either crashing out from the Group of Death or narrowly scraping through to the knockout stage, a glance to mathematical precedent brings a glimmer of hope for those who believe in such things.
Over the last two decades, according to analysis conducted by Irish newspaper The Journal, the average age of a World Cup finalist is 27.75, which – guess what – is mightily close to how the U.S. is going to shape up.
Thanks perhaps in part to well-seasoned goalkeepers Tim Howard (35) and his good friend Nick Rimando (34), the average age of the American 23-man roster is 27.3, making it older than Group G rivals Ghana, one of the youngest squads in the tournament at 24.8 and Germany (25.7, even with 35-year-old forward Miroslav Klose), yet younger than Portugal (28.3), which sends the oldest squad in its World Cup history.
Now, the Journal's research focused on the starting XI of teams and that is where the U.S. could get closer to the magical figure that seems to equate to success. The lineup listed below would produce an average age of 27.9 and would dip a touch further if any one of the younger players force their way into the XI.
When 32-year-old Landon Donovan, with three World Cups under his belt, was controversially omitted from the final roster and 18-year-old rookie Julian Green was included two weeks ago, the American roster instantly had a feel of youth and inexperience to it.
Howard, as the squad's oldest member, was even moved to defend the supposed youth movement after last Sunday's 2-1 friendly victory over Turkey.
"I think it is a good thing," Howard said. "I think we are hungry and guys are excited to prove a point not only individually but as a team.
"I don't see how it is a [negative]. For us it has been a super positive, just because we have a lot of young guys.
"Experience is a big thing. But experience also has baggage. So we don't have that baggage."
Maybe, just maybe, the U.S. sqaud's average age is actually about right. In reality, of course, there is no magical formula that revolves solely around age statistics and the U.S. remains on the outside looking in at a group of teams that can legitimately be considered among the favorites.
Germany is among them even with such a youthful squad handpicked by head coach Joachim Low, Klinsmann's old friend and former assistant with Germany at the 2006 World Cup where the Germans placed third.
For the Americans, a handful of positions are still up for grabs and could tilt the team's average age. DaMarcus Beasley (32) is tussling to oust 24-year-old Timmy Chandler from the left back spot. Brad Davis (32) and Alejandro Bedoya (27) are also scrapping for the left-sided midfield position, while Omar Gonzalez (25) or John Brooks (21) could still sneak ahead of Geoff Cameron (28) in central defense.
As for offensive weapons likely to come off the bench, Mix Diskerud and Aron Johannsson are a pair of 23-year-olds that have impressed so far. Green is also a contender for late-game action.
Klinsmann has argued that this is not a young squad and maybe the figures back him up. However, it is an inexperienced one, with only six players having traveled to a World Cup before and only five having seen game time.
It has been said that any World Cup in some ways resembles a lottery. If so, Klinsmann's success may hinge on the right numbers coming up.
He apparently has one number in his favor.
|POSSIBLE UNITED STATES STARTING LINEUP|
- Sports & Recreation
- Jurgen Klinsmann
- Tim Howard