The United States Men's National Team begins their 2014 World Cup Final campaign against nemesis Ghana. The Black Stars have given the Yanks the boot at the last two World Cups by a 2-1 scoreline, but Ghana will bring few holdovers from South Africa 2010. Likewise, the US boasts only 5 holdovers from the last World Cup, and only one (Clint Dempsey) who took part in the first match where Ghana provided the ouster.
Many have pointed to 3 points as a must for the Yanks to have a chance to advance from this group. So will form hold? Here is what I will be watching with
a gut full of swill while clutching my most recent will in my hand very little objectivity.
Overall team fitness: Camp
Hardass Klinsmann leading into and beyond the friendlies appears to have yielded a squad that is 90 minutes fit. In the Nigeria game in Jacksonville played in the 80's and high humidity, the Yanks' energy level never waned. As a result, the 2-1 scoreline did not tell the full story of how the US outplayed the Nigerians. Especially in the 2nd half, the US repeatedly took the game to their opponent and looked like they might achieve a blow out.
Additionally, aside from a minor knock to Timmy Chandler, the US comes into the match with no injury concerns. Ghana, on the other hand, have Abdul Majeed Waris and Kevin Prince-Boateng carrying knocks. Although they did manage to return to training on Saturday, one wonders if they'll be ready to play a full 90 in less than ideal conditions.
About that Nigeria game: Jurgen Klinsmann deployed a fairly defensive team that managed to rapidly transition from defense to attack. The comparisons with Nigeria may be overly simplistic, but the comparisons in possession trends, route of attack, and questions on the back line make this appear to be at least a decent imitation. If it turns out to be more than that, an impressive result is in the cards. At the least, the US should be carrying some quiet confidence going into the match.
Speaking of the Conditons: Natal has been drenched with almost 9 inches of rain this month. Flooding and mudslides have hit the city, and the field is almost assuredly going to be carrying some water. The forecast for today call for more rain. The formation that the Americans rolled out for the match against Nigeria does provide more defensive cover on the wings (with Alejandro Bedoya and Jermaine Jones tracking back) which should help serve as a hedge to players shipping (and they will).
Key to the Match: In 2010, the US got into the bad habit of conceding the first goal, usually pretty early. The only match where they did not concede early was by no coincidence the only match they won in South Africa. Most of the goals came down Route 1, so the burden of preventing a repeat of the failings of the last World Cup will fall squarely on Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler. If the defense can hold strong early, the US should be able to parlay the aforementioned fitness into a good result.
Prediction: Overall, the defense looks better than our last trip to the Southern Hemisphere. The USA are bringing good form to the tournament, and although the opening opponent has served as a bogeyman in previous years, the US offers fewer obvious mismatches than in years past. This game has 2-1 written all over it. Honestly, that scoreline could favor either team in this match, but I am going to predict the same score and result for the United States as I did in their previous two contests. The US scores the opener on the counter, pads the lead after the 60th on a set piece, and cedes a goal late to make it nervy.
USA 2, Ghana 1