USA vs. Ghana: World Cup preview

 

Ghana has been their kryptonite for the United States national team in the World Cup.

Ghana’s win in the final game of the group stage prevented the United States from advancing in the 2006 World Cup. Four years later, Ghana knocked the Americans out in the second round of the tournament after the Yanks had won their group.

Now, in a twist of fortune, this World Cup campaign opens with none other than the African giants. And with games against Portugal and Germany ahead in the “Group of Death,” the United States needs a win and the resulting three points to have any hope of advancing.

Why the U.S. can win …

1. They don’t know any better

Only four players who started in the 2-1 second round loss to Ghana in 2010 return to the likely starting 11 on Monday night.

This is a young United States squad and a similar youth movement helped carry the Americans to a quarterfinal run in 2002 and to some respect in 2010, where they shocked the world with a tie against England and won their group. Sometimes, a little naivete can be a good thing in the world of sports. Most of the U.S. squad who will play against Ghana know the history between these two teams, but have not experienced it. In other words, they won’t expect to lose.

2. The unpredictability factor

After a series of friendly matches leading up to the World Cup, we still have no clue what exactly head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has in mind for this team. The formation might be a diamond midfield, it might not be. Guessing at a starting 11 is anyone’s bet, as Klinsmann can be a bit unpredictable — if not slightly bizarre — in his choices. Ghana faces an opponent whose personnel is deeper than in year’s past, giving more lineup options to get ready for. It could make their game prep a nightmare.

3. Jozy is scoring again

After a rough go in England last year with Sunderland, Jozy Altidore is finally scoring again — a huge lift for the team. His skillset is unique and as a true striker, he must be counted on to bury chances regularly. He scored twice last week in a 2-1 win over Nigeria to give him some confidence. And he has always been a player which thrives on confidence and hot streaks.

Why the U.S. may struggle …

1. Because It’s Ghana

Simply, Ghana is very good. They boast world class players who play for top clubs in top leagues and while the Americans are very good, they don’t have a player in that upper echelon of talent. In addition, Ghana is a horrible matchup. The American team still beats superior sides with athleticism, speed and hard work since the technical side is not at an elite level yet. But Ghana is a physically strong and fast team, negating those attributes for the Americans. And they are technically a better side, which gives them a slight edge overall. They will have to beat them on the ball — a game they are not equipped for at this juncture.

2. Yanks are Built for 2018

Admit it, the national team brought to Brazil signals Klinsmann is waving the white flag over this World Cup. It is a young team. They are good, but likely overmatched. While they can pull off a surprise, it will be tough slogging in this group. To expect a win over a class team like Ghana will be tough. The Americans can beat about a dozen of the teams in this tournament, just none of them are named Germany, Portugal or Ghana. And that could doom them to a three-and-out.

3. Their playmaker is home

It’s been dissected a million different ways, but Landon Donovan watching this match from his couch hurts the U.S.’s chances at a win. Even if he isn’t a starter anymore — and that can be debated — his skillset is unique and needed in a game like this. Comfort on the ball and composure are in short supply on this roster, as is his ability one-on-one. Klinsmann’s decision could cost the team here. Donovan shows up in big games and his head coach decided this team didn’t need that.

Follow Red Bulls writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.



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