U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley chases down Belgian forward Eden Hazard during a World Cup match Tuesday, July 1, 2014, in Salvador, Brazil. Bradley ran a total of 34 miles during America's four World Cup games.

Covering Ground at the FIFA World Cup

It's no secret that soccer players get a workout during a 90-minute game. But how does their mileage stack up against other athletes?

U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley chases down Belgian forward Eden Hazard during a World Cup match Tuesday, July 1, 2014, in Salvador, Brazil. Bradley ran a total of 34 miles during America's four World Cup games.

U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley chases down Belgian forward Eden Hazard during a World Cup match Tuesday in Salvador, Brazil. Bradley ran a total of 34 miles during America's four World Cup games.

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Most soccer players cannot claim the blinding speed of track stars like Bolt or the raw power of football players like Johnson. But this year's U.S. team was, at the very least, well-equipped to chase the ball down the field.

Two U.S. players clocked some of the fastest speeds recorded in the tournament so far. Defender Fabian Johnson and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya both reached 20 mph, placing them in the tournament’s top 15 before the quarterfinals.

American defender Fabian Johnson recorded one of the fastest top speeds at the World Cup so far.
American defender Fabian Johnson recorded one of the fastest top speeds at the World Cup so far.

But a soccer match is more of a marathon and less of a sprint. The U.S. claimed four of the top 30 players who covered the most distance during each team’s first four World Cup games: Bradley, Jones and Dempsey were joined by midfielder DaMarcus Beasley, who covered almost 27 miles in the team's four games.

Honorable mention goes to midfielder Kyle Beckerman, who had run almost 21 miles in the team's first three games, easily placing him in the top 25 at that point. Beckerman did not play in the team's final game, so his mileage was cut short.

Germany also had four players in the top 30 in terms of distance covered, while Chile had the most with five players. Chile and the U.S. will not be advancing to the quarterfinals, so merely running around a lot is not necessarily indicative of success at the World Cup.

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A more telling statistic is a player’s distance traveled while in possession of the ball. Only four players kept possession of the ball for more than 12 miles over the span of their team's first four games. Three of those players – Philipp Lahm, Toni Kroos and Thomas Müller – play for Germany, making the team a prime example of one whose players move with a purpose. 

The top 20 in terms of distance covered in possession of the ball includes five Germans and eight Argentines. Both teams are advancing to the quarterfinals. Bradley was the United States' only representative in the top 20.

The U.S. did, however, have four players in the top 20 in terms of distance covered without possession of a soccer ball. Switzerland took up another five spots, and Chile claimed three of the players in the top 20. None of those countries advanced to the quarterfinals.

Considering its opponents, it's not surprising that the U.S. chased the ball more than its players controlled it. The American team only had the ball for 41 percent of its game against Ghana, 48 percent of the game against Portugal, 37 percent of the game against Germany and 52 percent of the game against Belgium, according to FIFA.

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Perhaps the biggest cause for concern about the U.S. squad's play in the Cup was the number of turnovers committed by players. Midfielder Jermaine Jones turned the ball over 51 times in four games, second only to Argentina's Ángel di María. Dempsey coughed the ball up 35 times, placing him among the tournament's top 20 players with the most TOs.

More than a quarter of Dempsey's attempted passes did not reach a U.S. player, and more than a third of Jones' passes were off-target.

American midfielder Graham Zusi attempted to cross the ball from the outside of the field to a player in front of goal 14 times, the most of any U.S. player. But only three of Zusi's crosses made it to a U.S. teammate, and more than 30 percent of his passes were off-target