Ever since the United States men's national soccer team found out its fate for the group stage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, it has been focusing on one game. But the game against Ghana Monday will not determine the fate of the team in Brazil.
Ghana has knocked the Stars and Stripes out of the last two World Cups, and the Black Stars are perceived as the weakest of the three opponents Jurgen Klinsmann's side will face in Brazil.
The game in Natal has long been seen as a make-or-break contest for the Yanks, since such difficult opposition awaits in the final two games of Group G in Portugal and Germany.
There is no doubt that beating Ghana would be a massive step in the right direction for the Yanks. It would finally close the open wounds from 2006 and 2010, but three points will not see them through to the knockout phase.
Regardless of the outcome in Natal, positive results must be earned in the other two games, and believe or not, that is something that is possible.
The game against Portugal has received almost as much attention as the Ghana clash because of two factors: Cristiano Ronaldo and the conditions in Manaus.
Ronaldo is the best player in the world at the moment, but he has been held up by a leg injury in training recently, which is either an elaborate ruse put on by the Portuguese to catch everyone off guard or is a legitimate knock that will hinder Portugal's World Cup dream.
Regardless of what the status of the Real Madrid playmaker is, he will not decide the outcome of the game at the Arena Amazonia.
As we saw in the Group D game between England and Italy at the same site Saturday, the Azzurri won because of team fitness and tactics, not because of raw talent.
If there is any manager in the world right now who is a master in both of those things it is Klinsmann. During the pre-World Cup camp at Stanford University, fitness was a major focus of the United States manager, who also has been spot-on for the most part when it comes to team selection.
Not only will selecting the right team come into play in Manaus, the three substitutions will also alter the landscape of the game. Looking back on Klinsmann's career with the Yanks, he has made plenty of correct calls with his substitutes, whether it be in the final CONCACAF World Cup qualifier against Panama or in the recent friendly versus Azerbaijan.
Defeating the world's best player and his teammates will be seen as a massive morale boost to the camp, and if everything goes right, the game with Germany may not mean much to the birth nation of Klinsmann.
Germany is seen as the clear group favorite. It could easily take down Ghana and Portugal in its first two games and clinch a spot in the knockout phase against an opponent from the weak Group H.
If that is the case, the United States will have a better chance of earning a win or draw because the Germans may play a more relaxed style of football that day.
While a ton of things have to go in the Americans' favor for this scenario to come true, it is just one of many that could happen over the next two weeks. With that in mind, they have to take a bit of the pressure off themselves when they head into the Ghana match.
If the pressure of earning revenge and starting off strong gets into the heads of some of the players, the Yanks could be doomed from the start and head into the Portugal game with zero sense of motivation.
Based on past big games in the Klinsmann era, the Yanks should be up for the Ghana game—revenge on the mind or not—and put out their best effort. But if they lose, it will not be the end of the world for a team that has a ton of expectations heading into the tournament.
Portugal and Germany are beatable, just like Italy and Bosnia-Herzegovina were in friendlies over the last few years, which is a mindset all Americans should have if they really think progress has been made since South Africa.
With that in mind, there is absolutely no reason to hit the panic button if the full three points are not earned by Klinsmann's men in Natal.
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