Preview: U.S. Men’s National Team take on Ghana

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

Is revenge coming for the U.S. Men’s National Team?

If it does, they will certainly have to earn it.

Ghana are as good — if not better — than their 2010 incarnation. That 2010 team was arguably better than their 2006 side. Why is that relevant? The U.S. have failed to get by the African nation twice in two consecutive World Cups, making this more of a grudge match than a Cup opener.

While Ghana just keeps on getting better, the U.S. enters the tournament in a state of flux. Their backline has only recently been cemented. Their starting formation was being tinkered with through their final send-off friendly. Their all-time leading scorer is no longer on the team and the offense has only just begun to find their form.

This is why the leadership of Jurgen Klinsmann has been in the spotlight. The former German striker has been to the mountain top as a player and guided his nation as a coach through a Cinderella World Cup run.

The question is, how prepared are his U.S. side to do the same? And will they be able to make a statement against Ghana?

Here is your preview:

PROJECTED U.S. LINEUP (4-2-3-1): Howard; Johnson, Cameron, Besler, Beasley; Beckerman, Jones; Bedoya, Bradley, Dempsey; Altidore

PROJECTED GHANA LINEUP (4-2-3-1): Kwarasey; Afful, Mensah, Boye, Muntari; A. Ayew, Essien; Asamoah, Boateng, J. Ayew; Gyan

HISTORY: Does it need to be said? Ghana have played a part in dealing the U.S. Men’s National Team the death blow in two consecutive World Cup encounters. Can they make it a third? Make no mistake; this first match may be one of the most decisive for the U.S.. The result may decide their fate in 90 short minutes.

LAST ENCOUNTER: Ghana 2-1 USA (World Cup 2010, Round of 16)

BATTLE TO WATCH: It’s All About The Midfield.
If the U.S. and Ghana have anything in common, it’s doubt in their backline. The Black Stars do not hold the kind of world class names one would expect to last in a tournament of this nature and the U.S. aren’t much better. That magnifies the midfield battle. As Jones, Beckerman and Bradley work to shield their backline, Ayew, Essien and Boateng will be doing the same. Win the middle, win the game.

X-FACTOR: Tim Howard. Recognizing the deficiencies in the back on both teams, it will come down to the goalkeepers to bail them out. Like many on his backline, Kwarasey doesn’t have the international pedigree to compete at this level and can fold if Ghana’s defense does. Howard, on the other hand, has been keeping the ever-morphing U.S. backline in matches since Klinsmann came on board. That will be invaluable experience in a World Cup already marred by defensive lapses.

OUTCOME:

It has been pouring in Natal, and that has to effect the terrain ahead of this match. Heat and humidity will also be a problem, but both teams are fit and accustomed enough to the elements to deal with such situations.

If the grounds are indeed effected, the U.S. will have a 12th man on the field. Muddy conditions will surely slow Ghana’s speed-first offense. The methodical ground attack of the U.S., on the other hand, can thrive despite the elements. Don’t agree? Think snowmageddon … just wetter.

The U.S. won’t need motivation in this one. History provided that at the draw. What they will need is discipline. You can’t play from behind as they did in 2010. To achieve that, they will need the spine of the team to be ready to perform.

For the past two years, Besler and Omar Gonzalez have anchored the backline. Now, Geoff Cameron has been thrown in the past two months. While he has performed well, it is doubtful a strong chemistry between the pair has been achieved. This is where Beckerman and Jones will be essential to the U.S. effort. The American’s need a two by two stack in front of Howard to repel the Ghanian attack.

If these elements stay true, it will be up to Dempsey and Altidore to find the back of the net. The former Red Bull man will have to show the same kind of bullying tactics that made him a threat in the friendly send-off series. Likewise, Dempsey has to be there to lead the attack through example and firepower.

All of this is easier said than done. Ghana’s midfield can certainly stack up against any World Cup competitor. However, they will have more playing against them thanks to the weather in Natal — and an inspired U.S. side.

RESULT: 2-1 U.S. Men’s National Team


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