Photo credit: Time
When Jurgen Klinsmann was hired for the US national team position there was one request: do well at the World Cup. For most this would mean get out of the group stage. Wrong. Chances were that the US could end up in a group of death. And it did.
After US Soccer knew its rivals, Ghana, Portugal, Germany, in that order, the request changed: Beat Ghana. Why? History.
In 2006, the United States was ranked in the top 10 and Bruce Arena's men were poised for a better tournament than the quarterfinals in 2002. They lost 3-0 in the opening match to the Czech Republic, tied 1-1 with Italy and lost 2-1 against Ghana in a game briefly tied by Clint Dempsey's first World Cup goal.
In 2010 the United States were once again an underdog but were placed in the "group of life" along with England, new-comer Slovenia, and Algeria, in that order. A herculean effort gave a 1-1 tie against England, a come-from-behind 2-2 tie against Slovenia was another classic, capped by a Hollywood ending 1-0 win over Algeria thanks to an injury time goal by one Landon Donovan. The round of 16 pitted the Americans against Ghana and the African nation prevailed, once more, knocking Bob Bradley's team out of the tournament.
This is why Ghana was the priority for the Americans in 2014. This and the fact that both Germany and Portugal are top 10 teams. "Too tough," claimed commentator Alexi Lalas. Most of us knowledgeable soccer followers concurred.
Alexi Lalas had some words of encouragement yesterday following Michael Bradley's interview previewing Portugal. This Portuguese team is fighting for their lives without Coentrao and Pepe in the defense and Cristiano Ronaldo not 100%. A chance for a win.
But do not be fooled. This Portuguese team, despite a lopsided 4-0 loss to Germany, has quality all over it. From Nani to Meireles to Cristiano Ronaldo. They have years of experience in the World Cup with a top 4 finish in 2006
Portugal will come out to win. They will do so down the right side and exploit the spaces left for Ronaldo. Team USA has no Mertesacker, no Sami Khedira, no Jerome Boateng. This is the one game where everything will be on the line for the Americans. They must play for everything and they must play to win. That's where the spaces will open.
Against Ghana there were no spaces because Dempsey scored early and the team backed off. A gift and a curse, as the players themselves assured. Jermaine Jones will need an even bigger game, Beckermann will have to be stronger and Michael Bradley has to show up. Without Altidore there will be little hold-up up front so the attack must come up the middle, through Bradley.
In reality the chances are slim for the Americans today. They are just as banged-up as the Portuguese and will play in a high-humidity scenario that levels the chances for both sides in terms of environment.
For Klinsmann and US Soccer the real goal was met. We did something we haven't done for two World Cups. We beat Ghana. This is a team looking to the future. Otherwise we would have Donovan in the 23. A win or a tie versus Portugal would conjure up memories of 2002. We are all allowed to dream.
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