Key Battles That Will Shape USA's World Cup Meeting with Ghana

Phil KeidelContributor IIJune 15, 2014

"Take it easy, Champ. Why don't you sit this next one out, stop talking for a while."
"Take it easy, Champ. Why don't you sit this next one out, stop talking for a while."Julio Cortez/Associated Press

Forgive me for not being quite sure why you are bothering to read this since Team USA's men's national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann is already on the record saying that his team cannot win the 2014 World Cup.

"For us now talking about winning a World Cup, it is just not realistic," Klinsmann said again recently, per ESPN's Jeff Carlisle.

Klinsmann has made comments like this in the past, and if we are all being honest with each other Klinsmann is not wrong. This version of the American World Cup team is a heavy underdog just to survive Group G. Doing that, then going on to win the whole tournament is almost surely too big an ask.

That said, why is Klinsmann continuing to bang this drum? Does he think no one heard him say this before? Is he afraid that American soccer fans have wildly unrealistic expectations about how far this squad can go? Because they really don't.

Poll results from the The New York Times blog "The Upshot," per NESN, showed that "just 14 percent of Americans believe the red, white and blue will hoist the trophy in Rio. That’s compared to 47 percent of both Spaniards and Argentinians — not particularly surprising given those countries’ rich soccer histories."

Klinsmann may think he needs to stamp out a jingoistic fire, but in reality he is putting out a lit match with a 55-gallon drum of ice water.

Despite Klinsmann's rampant pessimism, this World Cup opener for Ghana and the United States is going to happen, and so his team might as well try to win it. The key battles are:

  • Ghana's dangerous midfield troika of Andre Ayew, Kevin-Prince Boateng and Kwadwo Asamoah against American midfield stars Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi and Jermaine Jones.
  • American Jozy Altidore versus his confidence (or lack thereof); will the Americans get the dominant force who won the last friendly against Nigeria or the scattershot stumbler from Sunderland who went six months without a goal?
  • American Clint Dempsey (attacking midfielder) against Michael Essien (holding midfielder); both men are among their respective sides' best players, and the one who wins this battle will quite possibly tilt the match's balance in that team's favor.
  • Black Stars striker Asamoah Gyan versus American goalkeeper Tim Howard; the last time these teams met in the World Cup, Gyan beat Howard, and Ghana moved on while the United States went home, and you can be certain that both men remember that moment.
  • The United States against their recent World Cup history; the Americans are 1-3-3 in their last seven World Cup matches, and anything but a win against Ghana will likely make the rest of the tournament something of a formality for Klinsmann's men.

Predicting a winner is this match is probably folly because, unlike many World Cup sides, the Americans' best XI seems to depend on variables known only to Klinsmann. The American head coach is highly unlikely to deploy the same lineup twice in this World Cup.

For that matter, if the Americans lose against Ghana, you might see some very young men (Julian Green, DeAndre Yedlin, John Anthony Brooks) foisted into some very grown-up situations against Portugal and Germany in the final two games in the group stage.

American supporters will have to hope that Klinsmann's charges have more faith in themselves than he has in them.