Maybe that’s a bit of an overblown title, but after speaking with all of the literally tens of soccer fans around me, we’ve all agreed that all of our hopes for the future of USA Soccer hinge on this game.
Despite what a lot of people say, this morning’s 4-0 drubbing of Germany over Portugal only made that point more clear. After Ghana, our next match is Portugal. Portugal showed that not only are they beatable, but they’re a complete mess. Pepe is suspended after a ridiculous red card. Fabio Coentrão and Hugo Almeida both left with injuries and at least Coentrao is not expected to play the next game. Nani looked fast and skilled at the beginning while shooting up the right wing, but later seemed confused and ineffective. Cristiano Ronaldo could not save them, even though he does look match fit.
So with Portugal reeling, why does this game matter even more? Everyone’s been saying “if we can just get past Ghana…” Exactly like that, with nothing at the end. Then what? Hopefully a draw with Portugal, an expected loss to Germany, then go through on point differential if we’re lucky? No way. We have a specific reason to win today’s game–if Portugal plays as poorly as some think they might, with two wins the US would coast through the group and have a decently high seed. With a loss against Ghana, we’ll once again be clutching at straws and looking at every touch by Altidore as the magic bullet that will advance us to the next round.
Now, more than ever, we need to get past this Ghana jinx, take care of business against a supremely beatable team and focus on the possibly beatable team that we’ll be playing next.
What to Watch For
Is the scoring drought over, or were the two goals in the Nigeria game just a trickle to tease us? Jozy Altidore went 6 months without a goal. SIX MONTHS. That’s a striker we’re talking about. He’s good at hold-up play, but we can’t rely on just that. He’s going to need to get that boot back to its previous form and sink a few during the tournament for us to have any chance.
GK Tim Howard is going to have a lot of work ahead of him. He’s up to the task, both in European club play and international games. No worries there, but if something does go wrong, his backup Brad Guzan is more than capable, and many think he could be starting.
3. The Brothers Ayew
Ghanaians André and Jordan Ayew, playing at left and right wing respectively, are fast and can rip through our outside defenders. If Fabian Johnson makes too many attacking runs, Jordan can take clearly take advantage on the counter. Watch their speed and you’ll see.
4. The Christmas Tree vs. The Diamond
Going through the warmup games for the US, Klinsmann had a problem on how to play his midfielders. Two guys who would normally play in the same spot have very different styles–Kyle Beckerman is more of a defensive/holding midfielder, while Jermaine Jones likes to mix things up on the top but has a tendency to find himself out of position on the counter. With the “christmas tree” formation (4-3-2-1), both of them were able to play to their strengths. There’s a possibility that they may go back to the diamond (4-1-2-1-2) for the start of the game, but don’t be surprised if they mix it up by halftime if things aren’t going their way.
There’s something about coach Jurgen Klinsmann that blows me away every time I see him on the sidelines. He’s just a powerful force that deserves, and gets, respect from both his players and the other team. However, he’s also a loose cannon. I can see him getting sent off at some point during this tournament for lambasting the referees (as happened against Honduras).
Featured image courtesy of: Colorfulworldcup.com
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