Team USA opens tonight against Ghana in a ‘Must Win Game.’ The action will air on ESPN and the WatchESPN app at 5:30 pm ET. The USA is in Group G and many experts call this gang the ‘Group of Death.”
The problem with being in Group G is that it includes, world soccer superpowers, Germany and Portugal, ranked second and fourth in the world, and 2010 quarter-finalists Ghana, who we established open against the USA tonight in group play.
USA head coach, Jurgen Klinsmann has called it a knockout game. The heat in the tropical city of Natal will be intense and there might even be one of those great tropical rain storms that Brazil is famous for, but no matter what the weather is the U.S. must win. But those who think this will be an easy game history says it will be anything but…Ghana has bounced the USA team out of the last two World Cups and the team known as the ‘Black Stars,’ could make things impossible for the American’s to advance in the very tough Group G with a win today.
“Statistically the chances of advancing go way up now if you’re able to get a point or three from the first game,” said midfielder Michael Bradley. Since the 1998 World Cup, when the tournament expanded to 32 with two teams per group advancing, only 9% of teams that lost their first World Cup game (4 of 46) advanced to the knockout stage. A tie, which gives a team one point, in the first game gives a team hope — 56% of those teams (20 of 36) advanced from their group.
The USA’s inexperienced backline will be tested by a talented cast, featuring Gyan, Sulley Muntari, Michael Essien, Kevin-Prince Boateng. It helps that goalkeeper Tim Howard is the one behind them, steadying and organizing the defense.
Howard said his defense is faster and more athletic than 2010, better equipped to match the pace of Ghana’s attackers. Klinsmann wants his outside backs, Fabian Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley, to press up the field. If he goes with the same lineup used last weekend against Nigeria, Kyle Beckerman will play more of a defensive midfield role, allowing Bradley and Jermaine Jones the freedom to go forward.
So how can the USA win?
The heat and humidity of Brazil (and possibly buckets and buckets of rain) will be an issue for every team. Already, we’ve seen a few teams — notably the Netherlands — adopt a counter-attacking posture to great effect.
In the warm-up match against Nigeria (in hot and humid Jacksonville — not quite the Amazon, but possibly less attractive as a living destination), we potentially saw a preview of a style the United States might employ: Drop the line of confrontation*, keep a compact defensive shape and spring vertically into attack in transition.*How far up the field a team presses.
It’s a patient approach that invites the other team to expend energy and then turn that energy against them by attacking into the space behind as quickly as possible. (If you’re a basketball fan, think of it as a fast break.)
Watch how quickly and efficiently the U.S. transitions into attack a full hour into the game against Nigeria.
Ghana is a talented, smart and experienced team — in 2010, they were a missed penalty away from being the first African country to qualify for the semifinals. They will likely adopt a counter-attacking posture too. In fact, it’s often their default setting.
Out wide, the Ayew brothers (Jordan and Andre) have world-class speed. Centrally, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Asamoah Gyan are big and mobile. All four are good finishers.
A misplaced back pass, a missed rotation in the midfield, a poorly timed run by a fullback, a lost assignment on a set piece — whatever the mistake, Ghana has the ability to make the U.S. pay.
The USA needs to play a solid game on offense and defense, play smart while, keeping their mistakes to a very few.
Soccer is a fluid game and, as we’ve seen already in the Costa Rica -Uruguay game, anything can happen in a single 90-minute match.
Prediction: The USA wins 2-1