Surprise! It's a bonus squad on our list of profiles of FIFA's top-ranked teams in the world. Despite "9" being my lucky number, it makes for a lousy list so I was in search of one more. Because No. 10 Croatia, No. 11 Russia and No. 12 Eygpt failed to qualify, I decided to skip over Greece (sorry Greece) and profile the 14th-ranked team in the world, U-S-A.
While the U.S. may not be a legit "contender", it's proved that on any given day, it can compete with all the teams on our list. Without further ado, let's see what Red, White & Blue can do for you this summer ...
Group: C - England, Slovenia, Algeria
World Cup history: 0 titles; The good news for the Yanks? In their five previous appearances at the World Cup, they seem to excel every other time. Given their disappointing group stage result in 2006, perhaps a Round of 16 berth is in the cards once again.
The United States owns a 6-16-3 record in the eight tournaments in which its played. Its best finish was way back in 1930, when the team finished third in the inaugural tournament. Its most successful and impressive finish, however, came in 2002, when it advanced to the quarterfinals before falling to Germany.
5 key players: Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Tim Howard (Everton), Jozy Altidore (Hull City), Oguchi Onyewu (AC Milan)
Coach: Bob Bradley
Bradley was named head coach in 2007 and has compiled a record of 37-19-6 heading into the World Cup. He's a two-time MLS Coach of the Year and won the MLS Cup in 1998 with the Chicago Fire. In international play, he led the U.S. to the 2007 Gold Cup title and a runner-up performance in the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa last summer.
Outlook: The United States readies itself for one of the most important games in its history Saturday when it takes the field against England. Its next two opponents, Slovenia and Algeria, then will decide whether its 2010 World Cup is a success.
Advancing out of the group stage is pivitol for the Americans, which failed to win a game four years ago in Germany. Though a Yanks-Redcoats rematch is one of the sexiest matches in the entire group stage, the Americans don't necessary have to win it. If they lose and take six points from the rest of the group, all would be forgotten.
This year's team is a blend of fresh young faces and a veteran core that still has plenty to prove. The latter contingent is led by Landon Donovan, who has England on edge after a successful stint in their domestic league earlier this year. Clint Dempsey is his versatile co-conspirator who, along with goalie Tim Howard, has found success in England in recent years. Defenders Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo, as well as midfielder DaMarcus Beasley, all bring World Cup game experience to the table.
In the midfield, Michael Bradley -- the coach's son -- leads the group. He's no headline grabber, just a sound player on both sides of the ball that truly understands the game. That's no surprise given who taught him. Maurice Edu, Ricardo Clark and Jose Torres could all see time as his partner in the middle, with Dempsey, Donovan and rising star Stuart Holden all proving to be capable wing options.
The least experienced group is on the attack, where three of the four players Bradley selected never even appeared in qualifying. Jozy Altidore, of course, did -- and he led the team with six goals. The other three -- Edson Buddle, Robbie Findley and Herculez Gomez -- all contributed in a variety of ways in the friendly matches leading up to the World Cup, but one of Bradley's biggest decisions will be whether to lean on them on the biggest stage.
vs. Opponents: vs. England (2-7-0); vs. Slovenia (0-0-0), vs. Algeria (0-0-0)
Prediction: This team is good enough to grab points against England, but I wouldn't put a pile of money on it. Regardless of how it does against the Three Lions, the U.S. should still escape Group C in second place.
Goalkeepers: Tim Howard (Everton), Marcus Hahnemann (Wolves), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa)
Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Jay DeMerit (Watford), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Oguchi Onyewu (AC Milan), Jonathan Spector (West Ham)
Midfielders: DaMarcus Beasley (Rangers), Michael Bradley (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Ricardo Clark (Eintracht Frankfurt), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Benny Feilhaber (AGF Aarhus), Stuart Holden (Bolton), Jose Torres (Pachuca)
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Hull), Edson Buddle (Los Angeles Galaxy), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake), Herculez Gomez (Pachuca)