When it comes to stopping German dynamo Thomas Mueller, Plan A for the United States men's national team is to hope that the Germans do the sensible thing and play for a tepid draw.
ESPN's Ian Darke might disagree:
But Germany goes through with the top seed from Group G if they merely play keep-away from the Americans for about 100 minutes en route to a stalemate.
A draw would give the Germans and the Americans five points each, and the Germans' goal difference is superior to the Americans' thanks to the four-spot Germany hung on Portugal. Mueller, you may recall, was responsible for three of those goals against the Portuguese.
At the on-the-come age of 24, Mueller is developing into one of those uber-special players who saves the best of his game for the biggest stages. For proof, look at his 2013-14 season marks.
Mueller scored 13 goals in 31 league appearances for Bayern Munich this season. That is great work from a midfielder, certainly, but it is not dominant. When Yaya Toure is the third-leading scorer in the Premier League from a midfield position (ahead of the likes of Wayne Rooney and Sergio Aguero), that is dominant.
Then you look at what Mueller did in the Champions League and you see the sort of player he is when Bayern is not mopping the pitch with, say, Nurnberg.
Mueller scored five goals in 12 Champions League matches. That is remarkable production for a midfielder in a tournament where only the best club sides can play.
And now, in this World Cup, Mueller has those three goals and an assist in two games against Portugal and Ghana, otherwise known as the two teams most football pundits presumed would finish behind Germany and ahead of the United States in Group G.
So if Plan A does not work out and the Germans send the dogs after the Yankees, what should Jurgen Klinsmann do about it?
Klinsmann should deploy Jermaine Jones to push, pull, clutch, grab and generally annoy Mueller for as long as the referee allows Jones to remain on the pitch.
Yes, Jones saw yellow against Portugal, and thus another yellow card against Germany would disqualify him from the Americans' first match in the knockout stage. Klinsmann should worry about who may or may not be available for such a match only after earning a berth in it.
Besides, when you look at what is going on behind Jones and in front of American goalkeeper Tim Howard, it is just about impossible to trust the back four with getting in Mueller's way.
Geoff Cameron had a frightful match against Portugal, definitely at fault for the first Portuguese goal and at least partly at fault for the goal that tied the match at the death. And, um, Cameron is supposedly the Americans' best defender.
DaMarcus Beasley bounced back from a poor showing against Ghana with a workmanlike shift against Portugal, but he is not exactly a shutdown defender, either. Matt Besler has bravely pushed through pain in each of the Americans' first two matches—would you bet on him finishing this match against Germany?
My colleague Sam Tighe had kind words for Fabian Johnson, but Germany is not apt to give Johnson the sort of running room Portugal did.
That brings us back to Jones, who Deadspin's Greg Howard noted "has not so quietly been the Americans' best player". Jones is a physical presence and a cagey veteran whose experience imbues him with any number of schemes and tactics to put Mueller on his wrong foot.
Have you ever watched the NBA's Shane Battier play in-the-guy's-shirt defense? Or the NFL's Richard Sherman cover an opposing receiver like dense fog? That is what the Americans need from Jones.
This is not to suggest that the Germans lack other scoring options. They don't. Plenty of other German players could bag a brace or better against the Americans if the German footballing machine is running smoothly.
Still, common sense dictates that the Germans' hottest player right now is Mueller, and thus, he is the one who should receive, um, special defensive attention.
If the Germans will not play a polite draw against the Americans, Jones will need to play impolite football against Mueller.
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