Four guys who must carry their teams
It's a dreaded label: the one-man team.
The U.S. national team has gained in depth over the years. At most positions, there is now more than one viable option. Yet up front, the U.S. only seems to perform well when Los Angeles Galaxy forward Landon Donovan produces good form. The Americans' sensational run to the quarterfinals at the 2002 World Cup ran parallel to Donovan's international breakthrough. Conversely, the 2006 World Cup letdown had much to do with Donovan's shoddy showing.
While the U.S. isn't exactly a one-man team, its fortunes seem inextricably linked with the on-field fortitude of one player.
In that it is not alone.
Here are four other teams disproportionately dependent on one player.
Portugal: Cristiano Ronaldo
While he has dominated with his clubs Manchester United and now Real Madrid, Portugal winger Cristiano Ronaldo wasn't anywhere near as good when suiting up for Portugal during the World Cup qualifiers, scoring not a single goal. While he trudged along, battling an injury and poor form, Portugal suffered, too.
Without an effective Ronaldo, Portugal almost missed out on qualification. After a disastrous start to its campaign, it took a remarkable turnaround to snag a ticket to South Africa.
This reliance on Ronaldo is common for Portugal.
Since Ronaldo's emergence, the whimsical winger has led his country to the final of Euro 2004, where he was named to the all-tournament team, and the semifinals of World Cup 2006 -- after scoring seven goals in qualifying -- which would have seen him named the tournament's Best Young Player, had it not been for his aggressive behavior against England in the quarterfinals. During Euro 2008, however, Ronaldo had a pedestrian tournament and Portugal was stranded in the quarterfinals.
Ivory Coast: Didier Drogba
For all things related to scoring goals, the Ivory Coast relies on cement-poured Chelsea striker Didier Drogba. He led the country to its first World Cup in 2006 and scored the country's first-ever goal there. In that same year, the captain had also brought his country to the final of the Africa Cup of Nations. In 2008, he'd help them to the semifinals.
The indomitable Drogba scored six goals in just five qualifiers to help his Elephants reach their second straight World Cup where, like in 2006, it got stuck in the so-called Group of Death (Group G, which also includes Brazil and Portugal).
Unlike years prior, Drogba does have more help. The Ivory Coast now has perhaps the deepest squad ever produced on the African continent. But just how dependent the team still is on Drogba was apparent at this year's ACN, when Drogba was mediocre and his team, the favorite to lift the trophy, was bounced in the quarterfinals.
More proof: In 36 Ivory Coast games in international competitions, Drogba has scored 27 times.
South Africa: Steven Pienaar
It has become apparent that South Africa has no business playing at a World Cup, as evidenced by its recent appearances and through its failure to even qualify for this year's 16-team Africa Cup of Nations. Luckily for the Bafana Bafana, they get to play anyway, since their nation is hosting the tournament. A quick glance at their roster shows just how little hope they have of doing well. Of the 30 players called up for the preliminary roster, 19 play in the weak domestic league. Only one would realistically have a chance to start on any other World Cup-bound squad: Steven Pienaar.
Pienaar, who plays as a left winger for Everton -- which named him its player of the year this past season -- is the only South African player with the necessary skill set to make a difference. While mercurial striker Benni McCarthy and central defender Aaron Mokoena can be decent on their best days, only Pienaar has the ability to make South Africa respectable.
Cameroon: Samuel Eto'o
To Cameroon, Inter striker Eto'o is more benefactor than mere member of the team. That was never more evident than when Eto'o rewarded all his teammates with $50,000 gold watches as Eto'o led them to the World Cup. This team lives and dies by what Eto'o does.
Perhaps it's most telling that Eto'o, at 29, has already been with the national team for more than 14 years, making his debut when he was 14 in 1996. With 44 goals and 94 caps under his belt, he is the sole goal-scoring threat on a so-so Cameroon team, making him and his touch in the box absolutely indispensible.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.