Thursday, Noon Eastern, 11 Central. The USA's battle to emerge from the Group of Death into the Round of 16 begins.
And there are a lot of loose ends and questions about how to approach this game. But now that the next game in the World Cup is THAT MATCH, we simply can't wait any longer.
First, who is healthy? By the third game, the grind of the World Cup is taking its toll. Add in the Manaus Effect (teams that have played there are winless in their next match with a 3-10 goal differential) and the reality of one less day to recover, and you have the makings of a very tough challenge indeed.
Oh, and who do we play? Germany, right. Ouch.
I am not a fan of change for the sake of change, but let's look at things. So who do we have real questions about? Certainly not Howard or Jones. Beckerman, no. Johnson, absolutely not. You absolutely have to have Dempsey, who is probably more ready for this game than he has for any game in his career. Ok, those we know.
Ones we might have a slight question about - Cameron? No great replacement. Besler, maybe John Brooks? Zusi? Bedoya? All likely to play again, especially if Bedoya isn't knackered.
For me the two I look real hard at are Beasley (age, not performance) and Bradley (performance, mileage). Unless Timmy Chandler is window dressing, this would be a fantastic time to start the young man rather than run DMB into the ground. Remember, if we advance, we have only a few days to recover, so finding places to play a quality younger player and save a veteran for the next match is something worth considering.
Bradley. General Bradley. He has done so much and is probably hard to replace. But it sure seems like he has gotten to the end of his rope a few times, especially late against Portugal. Does it make sense to start Mix there and have him available to come on late if need be, or to be healthy for a next round game? I am not saying we should, but I am saying it is worth looking at hard.
After thinking about it for a few days, I think you have to play Bradley - he is too important not to. Just be ready to bring on Mix at half if it becomes apparent that his ability to play is compromised.
Add it all in, and it makes me think that the Chandler move is a smart one if he is ready for the moment (and if not, keep DMB). Besler stays unless Klinsmann really thinks that the Sporting man is unable to go 90 minutes. Again, this team is a unit and fighting well for each other. Don't make changes unless it is necessary.
As for style, I think we keep what we did against Germany, in large part because a counterattacking style was used by Ghana to give the Germans fits. Also, if you are talking about a Best XI, I think you use the same XI that you would use in a 4-2-3-1.
Again, there is a lot to be proud of from this side to date. Losing Altidore 21 minutes into the World Cup and we have been as dangerous as we have - real reason for confidence.
And that is one of the things I don't worry about - none of these guys are going to be overwhelmed or awed by the opponent. Klinsmann has done a great job of getting this team together as a unit and keeping the Eye on the Prize.
I do think that it is going to be a very back and forth game. Neither team has it in their DNA to play it safe. It would be ironic in two ways if the US were sent home because Germany didn't play it simple just like the US didn't against Panama, and if Ghana advanced at the cost of the US again.
But back to the first point - that is why I am encouraged. Germany is a test - completely. So let's cut our teeth on it and if we really are good enough to go through from the Group of Death, we have to prove it. Fantastic - bring it on. One, because that is the way it should be. I would hate to think that people could try to take away from this team's performance because "they only had to play two games because they got a pass against Germany." Two, if we do prove ourselves worthy, then no one no-where can take anything from this group, no-how.
Which brings me to my final point - The USA is ready for it. Tomorrow will test the team, to be sure, and a loss and an exit is a real possibility, but this team has proven it is very capable of playing with the best in the world, and frankly has a score to settle with Germany. For Portugal, my call of Dos a Cero was more "a choice to believe." For Germany, we have seen reason to believe.
At the very least, the team will play well, and earn credit in a match that matters. And for all intents and purposes, they have what it takes to stay in the game and when push comes to shove, they have very good reason to believe they will score the goal or make the save that advances them to the next round. Will it happen that way? Only time will tell, and Sports Happens, but I would rather be in the USA position than in the place of Ghana or Portugal, and that is saying something.