This USA team reminds me of the 2002 squad that made it to the quarterfinals only to lose 1-0 to Germany in a match where the Americans outplayed the opposition. The United States should have had a penalty kick, and Germany should have had a red card for a handball on the goal line.
That team came out with fire in its eyes, believing that its could beat anybody. And the Americans did, blowing away a very fancied Portugal side with three goals in the first half-hour of the opening game.
The 2010 team has that same fire and that same self-confidence that didn't exist on the 1998 or 2006 squads.
The United States faces a tricky game tomorrow against a Ghana team that stumbled into the Round of 16 thanks to Australia. Ghana's two biggest problems are the absence of star midfielder Michael Essien for the entire tournament, and an offense that has only scored two goals thus far—both from penalties. Those two problems are related.
The Americans are coming off the incredible high of Landon Donovan's extra time goal to save their tournament. That will be a huge asset as confidence is essential in the knockout stage. Ghana will have a huge weight on its shoulders as the last team standing from Africa. That can cut both ways.
The U.S. is stronger at the back because of Tim Howard, and he has been excellent throughout this World Cup. It's often the little things that make the difference in a game, such as his quick and accurate throw that led to Donovan's game-winning goal against Algeria.
For Ghana, Richard Kingson is solid in net and has likewise been error-free in the tournament.
The U.S. defense has been solid with Jay Demerit and Carlos Bocanegra both having exceptional tournaments. Oguchi Onyewu should be back for this game as well. His height and size will help keep Ghana's attack at bay.
Ghana have a solid defense that has given away little including holding Germany to one unstoppable goal. John Pantsil, John Mensah, and the newly promoted Jonathan Mensah have all been solid and disciplined and will force the U.S. attack to work hard.
The midfield matches up fairly evenly despite Essien's absence. For the U.S. Michael Bradley has been stellar with a controlled level of aggression. Donovan can break open a game and Clint Dempsey is showing the wealth of experience he has garnered playing for Fulham.
Ghana's midfield has surprised. Anthony Annan has become one of the standout holding midfielders in the tournament, and 20-year-old Andre Ayew is excelling. Kevin Prince Boateng is another player who could cause headaches for the Americans.
Up front Jozy Altidore has played well, proving he can play at this level despite not scoring yet. A goal would surely boost his confidence. Ghana needs Asamoah Gyan to come unstuck for them to have any chance at a victory. He was woeful virtually every time he got the ball in a critical situation against Germany, wasting a number of chances.
Despite struggling through the group stage, Ghana has been consistent with few errors. The ball control skills and short passing of the midfield could give Team USA headaches. The U.S. will need an error-free defense to win.
The intangibles favor the United States. The Americans' team unity, commitment, and aggression can get under Ghana's skin, and if that happens the United States will prevail quite comfortably. It could be a game of few clear-cut chances and whoever takes advantage of them will win.
This game could end up hinging on a lucky break, and after the group round the United States seems to have used up their allotment of bad breaks.
Soccer at this level can be a fickle mistress. The odds slightly favor the United States which is an accurate reflection of the game's prospects. Ghana has more skill but the United States has heart, cohesion, and determination, attributes that have not been as evident for Ghana.
The United States should prevail by the odd goal, but expect a well-played, tight game.
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