Monday, June 16, 2014

USA-Ghana - Pregame expectations

Quick and dirty, here we go.

Motivation and What Is At Stake

It doesn't get any clearer than this. Ghana has ended the US World Cup effort twice in a row. Add on to that the result from this morning (if you know it, you know why, if you don't, then you are avoiding the result to watch the game or . . . why are you reading this article again?) and it is very very simple - win this game and you have a clear path to advancing.

Not necessarily win and you are through - far from it. But win and you have two opportunities to cement your advancement. Tie and the road is tough. Lose and you are most likely done barring some really oddball results.

The Opponent

Ghana is one of the better African teams, generally as athletic as any, with European players, and the organizational and tactical development that comes with that experience. Usually considered with the Ivory Coast as the two most likely to succeed in the World Cup generally, they are like the US in that they realize being in the Group of Death means there is no tomorrow, especially today.

They were a surprise in 2006, but their success in 2010 was not beyond expectations. The fact that they were the African side to advance the farthest was, on the other hand, a bit of a surprise.

But how are they now? Four years and a lot can change. Considering their play in recent African competition (Continental championship and World Cup qualification), they do not seem as strong as they were in 2010. Then again, a lot can change even in the eight months between their last competitive match of note and today.

Big questions for them - how will they handle the heat, and how will they handle the moment? Word has it that there will be a sizable US presence at the game. The heat will probably not hinder them any more than the Americans, and it might even be an advantage. But will nerves get the most of them? This could in fact be a game where the US fan support could make a difference.

Our Lads

So we know the following: Altidore, Dempsey, Bradley, Howard. Most likely Cameron, Jones and Beckerman. Probably Besler or Brooks, Johnson, Beasley? And then the open question - Graham Z or Bedoya.

What I really like about that lineup is the lack of experience. Wait, what? Yes. Lack of experience. Other than a few, none have the weight of losing to Ghana on their conscience, but all know that Ghana kept the US back and will still be motivated to avenge those losses.

I think the biggest question really comes down to unity as a team, and organization at the back. With Howard in goal, if the back six can stay organized and not make the Big Mistake, then it will be up to the attack to get a goal or two. A shutout is not impossible, and if the right defenders play well behind Beckerman or Jones, even likely, so even one goal could be the match winner.

As for unity, here is where I think Klinsmann has it right on the Donovan decision - there is zero question in my mind that the XI that will take the field today will be so motivated, so dialed in, and so ready to excise eight years of frustration with Ghana that it will take the game of the Ghanians lives to win today. Donovan has at times been unfocused, and that is something that simply cannot happen today. Simply put, the entire tournament hinges on a win today.

In the attack, it is hard to put too much on one performance, but that last goal for Altidore against Nigeria has to give you goosebumps. What a striker's goal, no? Get that moment of brilliance today, with an organized defense and the crowd support that we expect, and the US chances have to be good, even without a contribution from Bradley or Dempsey.

I also like Bradley and Dempsey, though. Clint has no fear of Ghana, and he has to take confidence from his goal in 2006 - in a lot of ways, his coming out party for the US. And Bradley seems to have take on a bigger and bigger role for the US the longer he has played for Klinsmann. I almost want to say I guarantee a goal from Bradley today, and I certainly think a goal or an assist from him is a very good bet. (Not that I condone that sort of thing, mind you...).

Bottom Line

I have not wavered from this since December - this is a must win if we want to advance. This game is the tournament. Not that if we win, we are through - far from it. There would still be yeoman's work to be done even with a strong win. But any chance of advancing hinges on three points today.

Give me the right defense, and if they have a good game, it is all there for the taking. I really do have faith that rested, fresh and prepared, we will find a way to score today. Howard will make the Black Stars earn it from the defense, so there you have it. It is on you, Geoff and Co. Do us proud!

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