The World Cup, possibly the most popular international sporting event, starts this week in Brazil. The world is abuzz as many of soccer’s best players, representing 32 countries, seek to dethrone Spain, the reigning champion.

The World Cup is held every four years in a different country. National teams qualify through a series of regional games; the host country gets an automatic bid. The actual tournament, unfolding over the course of a month, includes a group stage and a knockout stage. In the group stage, each team plays the other three teams in its group. The top two finishers from each group move on to the knockout stage, which eventually determines the champion.

The United States men’s national soccer team has qualified for every World Cup since 1990. Not a traditional powerhouse, the U.S. enters this tournament ranked thirteenth in the world. The team is not expected to make it out of the group stage.

But stranger things have happened.

The American team offers just a few of the many storylines set to play out at the 2014 World Cup. Here are the five things you need to know about the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Landon Donovan of the US Men’s National Team practices in Stanford, California on May 14, 2014. In the upcoming World Cup 2014 the US is drawn in Group G, along with Ghana, who reached the quarter-finals in the 2010 edition, Euro 2012 semi-finalists Portugal, and one of the favorites for the trophy Germany. They will kick off their campaign on June 16 against Ghana.

Landon Donovan (Photo Credit: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

Landon Donovan (Photo Credit: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

1. The Best American Player Ever Not Included On US Roster

The most decorated American player won’t be in Brazil for the World Cup. That player is Landon Donovan, and he was excluded from the national soccer team for being not quite at the level of his would-be teammates. Meanwhile, Donovan is breaking scoring records in Major League Soccer. Right after US coach Jurgen Klinsmann cut Donovan from the USMNT, Donovan became the league’s all-time leading goalscorer.

Many think that Klinsmann made a mistake not including the iconic player on the USMNT, to at least provide experience and moral guidance within the squad. Most of the forwards this time around are new to the international scene. Others thinks the move was calculated to give younger players more experience, setting up the team for future World Cup success. We’ll know soon enough, as the Yanks take the field Monday, June 16 against Ghana, their first game in what’s been dubbed the “Group of Death.”

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