Despite the low expectations and dread surrounding this year’s World Cup offering, the United States Men’s National Team still has a lot of to feel fortunate about, and if they play it just right, they might just be able to get out of the ‘group of death’ and into a favorable last-16 draw.
First of all, although it was an under-strength Turkey side, without the likes of Ardan Turan, there were a lot of positives to take away from a game that heralded some key performances from some potentially key players.
To name a few, Jozy Altidor looks very motivated, and despite still looking nothing like a footballer will clearly be more than a handful for opposition defenses. Clint Dempsey looks to have benefited from some regular action, and Fabian Johnson looks every bit the competent left back. This is all well and good but how are they going to get out of the group?
For me the key is the second game against Portugal, as the game itself will take place in the stifling Amazonian heat of Manaus. If USMNT were to play Portugal ten times on European soil I believe Portugal would win at least eight times, but that enervating humidity, mixed with the USMNT’s slightly superior athleticism might just give them the edge.
Another factor working in the USMNT’s favor is that Portugal will be going into the game on the back of what will most likely have been a defeat at the hands of heavily fancied Germany.
Watching the Turkey game you can see that the USMNT’s system allows for enormous gaps, especially down the flanks. When it comes to Portugal the USMNT must adopt some street smarts and keep their nerve by ‘parking the bus’ until Portugal start to get desperate, then, and only then should the USMNT look to start hitting them on the counter attack.
So what of the other two games?
Well, I think it’s enormously important that they don’t lose the opener against Ghana. If it’s 0-0 after 60 minutes or so, Klinsman should make the appropriate changes so as to shore up the defense and rely on the counter attack, trying to capitalize on their shaky defense. Again, it is paramount that the USMNT compact their system so as not to allow Ghana to utilize their pace. Ghana also boasts a lot of tempestuous personalities, it’s important that they are frustrated.
USMNT also play Germany. On paper this looks like a disaster, but one of the major advantages of playing one of the tournament favorites last is that if they have already won the group they will a) field a weakened team with players unwilling to risk injury and b) be happy to see out a draw.
The USMNT have most definitely been dealt one of the harshest draws in the tournament, but it is the order in which they will face these teams that just might see them out of group G.