Tuesday, June 17, 2014

USA-Ghana - a bit more

It has only been 24 hours (yes, Jack Bauer reference there), yet we're deep into the next layer of analysis of this massive game. And it makes sense, as the World Cup happens every four years. As Bob Sturm pointed out in his blog, the USA has a TOTAL of eight wins in almost a century of World Cups. Of course it doesn't help that we didn't make a World Cup between 1950 and 1990...

But even looking at things since the US soccer renaissance (1990 to present), you only have five in 24 years. None in 1990, 1998 and 2006, one in 1994 and 2010 and two in 2002. Then yesterday's win. Let that sink in - twice we have gone EIGHT YEARS without a victory in the World Cup. Ugh.

So while I am the last one to say yesterday's win had much aesthetic beauty to it outside the goals, remember that England, Uruguay, Spain, Portugal and Greece would all trade results with the US in a heartbeat. Not in order, those teams are 1, 4, 7, 10 and 12 in the FIFA World Rankings.

Oh, and Ghana. The team that advanced the farthest from Africa in 2010. They would DEFINITELY trade places with the US.

That is how desperate things are, so when you see the US playing desperately rather than beautifully, bear that in mind.

Lineup changes

In general, the performances of Brooks and Zusi give me confidence that they can step in on Sunday and contribute, especially with the way Portugal is going to have to attack. As was pointed out by Megan Nix on Facebook, even Johannsson probably suffered more from the midfield struggles to hold the ball and maybe I was a little hard on the guy. Again, five days to prepare for Portugal ought to give the team a chance to make sure Aron is more integrated and effective.

What to expect

We will probably need to take a closer look at the match-ups against Portugal in more detail later, but from a 10,000 foot vantage point, we know a few things that we can discuss in a little more detail now that the initial rush of blood from yesterday's game has subsided.

Portugal is hurt and desperate. Yes supremely talented. FIFA rankings may not be an exact science, but you don't get to No. 4 without having a little talent. And yes, the red card and injuries won't help.
But there still probably is more raw football skill and talent on the bottom 11 for Portugal than there is for the top 11 for the US. Not being dramatic - take a look at it in more detail. So a few injuries aren't going to automatically put us on par with them.

They will have to attack. The only question is whether they will pick their spots or go full out. Considering the injury issues we all saw yesterday afternoon, I would say pressing for as much of the game as possible is very likely.

What is the goal

If the win is there to be had, by all means, the US should take it. But let's go back to the desperation of winning in the World Cup and remember that if a tie serves us, let's grab it. I haven't run all the numbers and back-checked them, but initial evaluation sure looks like a tie combined with anything other than a Ghana win and the US is in fantastic shape to advance, especially considering that a Germany loss to the Africans would be a very surprising result. If Ghana is on one or no points after two matches and the US can keep Portugal from a win, then Germany and the US can take a tie in the final game to the bank.

What does that mean

The guts of the Americans - cited often in 2010 as a strength, and on display again yesterday  will be front and center. Tactical acumen, emotional intelligence and football IQ will very necessary. And as talented as Portugal is, we will most likely have to score one if not more. A 0-0 draw is highly unlikely.

So let's be watching the injury information, and hope and pray that all the studying of the Portugal team and their game against Germany pays off.

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