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Can Team USA Make It Out Of The Group Of Death?

Jairo Gomez |
June 16, 2014 | 6:31 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer

If anything was learned from Saturday’s epic and shocking match between Uruguay and Costa Rica it's that nothing is certain in this World Cup. Granted that other results such as the Spanish giants’ fall to the Netherlands in spectacular fashion, Ivory Coast overcoming a temporary defeat over the technical Japanese team, and Argentina’s struggles with a debuting Bosnian team have demonstrated that the best World Cup will not fail to provide surprises. However, the defeat of the last South American champions to a small Central American team is the most significant and symbolic for all underdog teams in this tournament especially considering the fact that ‘Los Ticos’ ended the first half with a goal against them.

John Brooks celebrates after scoring the game winning goal against Ghana. (USMNT Twitter)
John Brooks celebrates after scoring the game winning goal against Ghana. (USMNT Twitter)

Given this, one can surmise that the United States’ chances of advancing into the knockout phase isn’t necessarily impossible. Will it be difficult? Absolutely! But then again, this is the World Cup and they are placed in the ‘Group of Death.' Therefore, although the odds were initially completely against the US of A prior to the start of the Cup, Saturday’s symbolic victory for Costa Rica demonstrates that teams projected to fail can in fact defeat the biggest of teams. And given the fact that the Stars and Stripes are in the hands of a coach such as Klinsmann, who has integrated his own sense of style and principles to this team, along with today’s exciting victory, it would be safe to assume that the Yanks' odds have in fact improved.

Although Ghana isn’t necessarily the strongest of teams, they do have talent including German-based player Kevin-Prince Boateng and Michael Essien. It is also vital to point out that Ghana has eliminated the USA in the last two world cups. Both these realities demonstrate that the ‘Black Stars’ are never to be taken lightly. This only makes the American victory all the more fantastic.

Although on one hand, the fact that Ghana maintained possession during most of the first half is a red flag indicating certain inefficiencies in the American team, it also demonstrates the latter’s focused defense and effective marking in the midfield with Alejandro Bedoya and Jermaine Jones. It also proves that the Americans have the important ability to score in clutch situations. Today’s victory was hard fought to the end and the good news is that the USA has a lot of good material to work with. But of course this is just the beginning.

The American’s greatest obstacle will undoubtedly be Germany. After the teutonic thrashing of the Portuguese team in a dominant and imposing manner, the Germans proved that out of the favorites expected to make the finals, they are the only ones who are practically flawless. Brazil demonstrated minor defensive issues in the first half of the opening match. Argentina demonstrated difficulties in ball possession, and as for Spain… their results from Friday say it all. 

Moving forward, the American people are asking themselves, "Can Team USA defeat Germany?" The answer: Possibly. Is it probable? At this point it is a little frightening to answer considering the fact that this tournament has shown that probabilities are almost worthless. But given the nature of the tournament, I will say the probability is small, which is more optimistic considering that prior to the Cup, the USA’s chances of making so much as an impact were virtually nonexistent. And even though Portugal made little impact in their match, a few of America's advantages can make their match against Germany slightly different.

Despite the fact that the star-studded German team is looking stronger, more organized and more lethal than ever, the Stars and Stripes squad has one major advantage in its favor: Klinsmann’s understanding and knowledge of current German coach Joachim Low (seeing as the latter was the former’s protégé). This gives the US a tactical advantage in its arsenal. Of course, this may seem naive and virtually worthless. However, from the beginning, the US has depended greatly on tactics and strategy to overcome a group that is far superior in player quality. 

And then there is Klinsmann’s diamond midfield, which proved to be great offensively but even more so defensively, which is important for a team as lethal as Germany. With holding midfielder Kyle Beckermann (and the back-line supporting him from behind) along with midfielders Jones and Bedoya, the American midfield will be their primary weapon. 

Teammates DaMarcus Beasley and Clint Dempsey celebrate with Vice President Joe Biden (USMNT Twitter)
Teammates DaMarcus Beasley and Clint Dempsey celebrate with Vice President Joe Biden (USMNT Twitter)

If this article were to be based primarily on realistic principles, then I’d say defeating the German national team is not highly probable. But a tie is within their grasps, which would be an enormous feat especially with the German offensive force. And at the end of the day, what matters is that the American team advances to the next round. A tie would increase their chances of doing this.

Then there is Portugal. Although Portugal was seen as having higher odds in their match versus the USA especially with their team of European based players, today demonstrated that this theory is flawed. Their defeat demonstrated that not only do they find it difficult to utilize their strongest weapon, Cristiano Ronaldo, but their entire attacking third had very few chances due to a failed connection with the midfield. The entire Portuguese team itself had a very difficult time connecting passes throughout the game, which is good news for the USA.

Instead of the expected battle between the Portuguese offense and the American defense, it now appears that this duel will be fought in the midfield. As long as the Stars and Stripes manage to neutralize Portuguese midfielders, such as Moutinho, and prevent them from connecting with offensive players like Ronaldo and Nani (which is possible after the manner in which Portugal played ), the USA will have a higher chance of being victorious. 

This, combined with the Portuguese loss of starting defender Pepe (which ironically due to his childishly violent incidents may not be such a disadvantage for Portugal afterall), will allow the Yankees to focus more on the attack, which will increase their chances of walking away from this match with three points. 

But of course there are a few more added complications besides the difficulties Germany and Portugal will impose. USA’s offense clearly needs some serious fine tuning. Although Dempsey’s 30-second goal would say otherwise, the captain had very few touches during the remainder of the match. As for Jóhannsson, the forward was seen playing deeper in the field and had no real danger inside the box or any shots for that matter.

Then of course there is Jozy Altidore, whose injury in the first half may prevent him from playing in the future. Even if he is set to return for future matches, the Sunderland forward is barely recovering from a goal drought that ended in the USA’s final friendly against Nigeria prior to the tournament. Therefore, his finishing still requires improvement, although admittedly Altidore had a few decent touches in the attacking third and in the box. The bottom line is that the Yankees’ weakest spot is their offense and if their forwards can step up, their chances will only improve.

Regardless of the obstacles that this team will face in their upcoming matches, today’s victory and the lessons learned in today’s and previous matches demonstrates that Americans have the right to believe. And today was a fantastic first step in the right direction.

Reach Staff Reporter Jairo Gomez here



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