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updated: 6/16/2014 9:49 AM

World Cup spotlight shines on ex-Palatine resident

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  • Michael Bradley, foreground, who is the son of former Chicago Fire coach Bob Bradley and a former Palatine resident, might be the Americans' most important player in the World Cup. The United States opens World Cup Group G play against Ghana on Monday.

      Michael Bradley, foreground, who is the son of former Chicago Fire coach Bob Bradley and a former Palatine resident, might be the Americans' most important player in the World Cup. The United States opens World Cup Group G play against Ghana on Monday.
    Associated Press

 
 

With all due respect to Landon Donovan, he doesn't matter anymore.

It's time to get over the fact that Donovan is not in Brazil and focus on who is. The United States opens World Cup Group G play against Ghana on Monday (5 p.m. ESPN), and Donovan will be less a factor than Jennifer Lopez. Pitbull too.

Here are five American players to watch over the next three games -- and maybe more.

Michael Bradley

The son of former Chicago Fire coach Bob Bradley and a former Palatine resident, Bradley might be the Americans' most important player in this tournament.

He showed in an April 2 friendly against Mexico that he can be the hub of the United States' attack and score too. The Americans were electric in the first half of that match before large-scale substitution changed the tenor of the game.

The more Bradley can control the tempo of the game from his spot in the middle of the field, the less pressure there will be on the defense and the more he can get the ball up front to the guys who are best at putting it in the other team's net.

Bradley also brings the kind of fitness and single-minded focus on the game that can rub off on the guys surrounding him, pulling the team through the waning moments of games when the players are tired and the heat and humidity are wearing them down.

Tim Howard

The Everton man is regarded as one of the world's top goalkeepers, and he will have to play up to that billing in this tournament. Against the likes of Ghana, Portugal and Germany, and with a back line that has been suspect lately, Howard will be tested more than a seventh-year college undergrad.

At age 35 Howard remains very athletic, and he can call on his years of experience in the English Premier League too. To borrow a hockey phrase, Howard will need to stand on his head to keep players like Mesut Ozul, Cristiano Ronaldo and Asamoah Gyan from scoring. See Brad Friedel, 2002.

Clint Dempsey

Like Bradley, the forward from Nacogdoches, Texas, will collect more than $6 million this year in Major League Soccer. Dempsey will need to play like a $6 million man in Brazil too.

He's capable of the kind of fancy footwork usually associated with players from other countries, but he's not all style. There's plenty of substance to Dempsey.

Dempsey is the team captain, not because he talks the talk but because he walks the walk. He is off to a very good season in MLS, and coach Jurgen Klinsmann needs Dempsey to keep that momentum going in Brazil.

Jozy Altidore

He's big, strong, quick and can be hard for a defender to handle. In the run-up to the World Cup, the forward has shown signs of breaking out of a long scoring slump. If he can score, say, 3 goals in the group stage, the Americans should advance.

Watch how he and Dempsey work together.

Kyle Beckerman

If you're a soccer die-hard, this might be the surprise name on this list. Beckerman might not even play against Ghana. But if he does, it will be up to him and Jermaine Jones to watch Bradley's back, freeing Bradley to attack without immediately worrying about hustling back on defense.

If Beckerman and Jones play in tandem in the center of the U.S. midfield, they must protect that suspect back line, disrupting the opponent's attack almost before it can start. They will need to be bulldogs (sorry, Pitbull). If the Ghanaians run roughshod over Beckerman and Jones, it will be a long 90 minutes for Klinsmann and Co. This is a job Jones might not be able to handle alone.

• Follow Orrin's soccer reports on Twitter @Orrin_Schwarz.

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