SAO PAULO – The Group of Death was supposed to chew the U.S. national team up and spit it out, but the Americans shocked the world, or at least a good-sized collection of doubters, in qualifying for the round of 16.
The achievement wasn’t a case of luck, but rather the impressive efforts of a team that played at a higher level than most expected.
There were standouts who led the way, such as Jermaine Jones and Fabian Johnson, and surprises who exceeded expectations, like Kyle Beckerman and Omar Gonzalez. And even a wild card in right back-turned-right winger DeAndre Yedlin.
Not everybody has met full expectations. Michael Bradley has covered an incredible amount of ground in helping the U.S. frustrate opponents defensively, but his own contributions to the American attack have fallen short of his expected production. Geoff Cameron also came into the tournament with high hopes, but followed up a very strong World Cup debut with a much shakier second match.
Here is a closer look at how all of the U.S. national team players fared in the group stages, with number grades on a 1-10 scale (with 6 being okay, 7 very good, 8 excellent, 9 being a goal machine, and 10 being World Cup Golden Ball caliber)
TIM HOWARD- 6.5. A much better World Cup than in 2010, Howard has made key saves in every match, and was instrumental in helping the team earn the group-opening win against Ghana.
FABIAN JOHNSON- 7. Few have seen their stock rise as much as Johnson’s, with the right back proving to be a consistent threat on the right flank. Loses a half grade for being beaten for Ghana’s goal, but he has been key to keeping opposing defenses honest, and has been solid defensively.
MATT BESLER- 7. A steady force in central defense, the Portugal match was his best as he helped offset Cameron’s struggles. Has to be drawing the attention of European clubs.
GEOFF CAMERON- 5.5. Talk about a tale of two matches. Against Ghana, Cameron was outstanding, arguably the U.S. team’s best player. Against Portugal, Cameron was arguably the team’s worst.
OMAR GONZALEZ- 6.5. His cameo against Portugal was uneventful, but then he came in against Germany and played very well. So well, in fact, that he might just keep the starting central defender job next to Besler.
DAMARCUS BEASLEY- 6. After being turned inside out by Christian Atsu in the opening win against Ghana, Beasley has settled down and been a very steady presence at left back.
KYLE BECKERMAN- 7.5. Is quietly having a very good tournament and has been a vital part of the U.S. midfield. His work in the Ghana game was crucial, and he was very good again vs. Germany.
JERMAINE JONES- 8. The team’s best player in all three group matches, Jones has played well enough to merit consideration for a Best XI place in the tournament. His toughness and work rate are unmatched and he’s helped keep the Americans from getting bullied. Assisted on the opening goal of the tournament, and scored a beauty of his own against Portugal.
MICHAEL BRADLEY- 6. Some will think he deserves a lower mark, but it’s tough to ignore the amount of defensive work he has done. That said, he has committed more turnovers than we are used to seeing, and he hasn’t had the impact on the U.S. attack that was expected when he took on the attacking midfield role.
ALEJANDRO BEDOYA- 5.5. His tireless engine has made him an important player against high-octane teams, but his lack of attacking contributions keeps him from a higher grade.
CLINT DEMPSEY- 7. Two goals in the first two games earns him the solid grade, and playing through a broken nose against Ghana has to earn him some extra credit. He was pretty quiet against Germany.
GRAHAM ZUSI- 6. His corner kick set up the John Brooks winner against Ghana, and he did very well against Portugal. Wasn’t as effective against Germany, but still, overall a solid showing.
JOHN BROOKS- 7. One appearance, 45 minutes, some very good defensive work and one extremely important goal. Not a bad contribution from the 21-year-old defender.
BRAD DAVIS- 4. Had little impact in the Germany game as a starter in his lone tournament appearance.
DEANDRE YEDLIN- 6. A good spark off the bench in two matches, Yedlin has taken on an unfamiliar role rather well.
ARON JOHANNSSON- 5. Didn’t have much of an impact in replacing Jozy Altidore in the opener, and hasn’t played since.
JOZY ALTIDORE- INC. Injured early in the opening match.
CHRIS WONDOLOWSKI- INC. Was decent in his one brief cameo, but hasn’t played enough to earn a full grade.