Analyzing USMNT’s Chances of Advancing from “Group of Death” at World Cup 2014

December 7, 2013
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The following piece was written by Andrew Marcinko. You can follow him on Twitter @FootyAmerica or visit his blog at www.footyamerica.com

It was a wild day on Friday for American soccer, as the Yanks were seemingly the biggest story of the World Cup draw. Let’s take a look at what we’re up against.

First of all, let’s get the official stuff out of the way. Here are the results of the draw, with the USA’s Group G circled for your viewing pleasure:

World Cup groups

People are saying the USA has managed to draw the most difficult group, though I would argue that Group D is actually more intimidating. Either way, it’s an incredibly tough draw and the U.S. will in all likelihood not be favored to advance.

Of course, if that group isn’t terrifying enough, things actually get worse for the Americans. Here’s the schedule of matches for group G:

US Group Play Schedule

Notice the incredible Photoshop work I’ve done to point out the city of “Manaus” to you, where we meet Portugal in our second game on June 22nd. Why is it “bad”, you ask? Well, for one thing, Wikipedia describes it as a “Tropical Monsoon Climate”. That’s right, a tropical monsoon. For another, it’s part of the 8,900 miles of travel the USMNT will have to do to play in our 3 group-stage games. In fact, U.S. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann said specifically yesterday of himself and all the other coaches, “Everybody wants to avoid Manaus.”

All that being said, could this actually work in the Yanks favor? Well, maybe. The USMNT is typically one of the best-conditioned teams at the World Cup and will be led by the relentless energy of Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley—not to mention Klinsmann’s obsessive focus on fitness. In addition, MLS-based players are more used to travel than those in other leagues given the sheer size of the United States.

So let’s take a look at the matches:

June 16th – USA vs. Ghana

This is the big one for the USA, and this time, it’s personal (again). Ghana, known as the Black Stars, has eliminated the USA from the World Cup each of the last two go ’rounds (2006 and 2010). On top of that, this game is close to a must-win for the Yanks if they’re to have any hope of advancing to the Round of 16. U.S. fans are understandably terrified given these clubs history, but in reality, the USA should be a better team than Ghana in 2014.

Ghana has been led by European-based stars Michael Essien and Sulley Muntari for quite a while, but both are getting older and no longer the superstars they once were. Further, their defense and goalkeeping is questionable at best. This will be a match where the USA may have to weather an early storm from the speedy Black Stars, but if they can do that, they should be able to take control of the match and create plenty of chances.

June 22nd – USA vs. Portugal

The most likely scenario in Group G is that these two teams will be fighting to the 2nd spot in the group and a chance to advance to the next round. There are two things you need to know and accept about Portugal:

1. They are not a one man team.

2. They do happen to have one man who may be the best soccer player in the world.

In all honestly, I like that this match will be played in a jungle, as I think the U.S. is going to need all the help it can get. It’s hard to make a prediction for this one, as the two teams play completely opposite styles of soccer. The U.S. has size, speed, and counter-attacks well, whereas Portugal will look to play “pure” soccer with technical proficiency and possession. This one may come down to how well the make-shift USA wingbacks are able to cope with Cristiano Ronaldo, and how well Klinsmann can gameplan to give them support. It certainly couldn’t hurt if the Portuguese come in rattled after a beatdown from the Germans in their first match.

June 26th – USA vs. Germany

This one’s the wildcard. On paper, Germany is one of the favorites to win it all and certainly a much better team than the United States. Germany is immensely talented, reasonably young, and is clicking right now as well as any other national team out there. However, if everything goes according to plan (which it almost certainly won’t), Germany will be securely through to the next round at this point and may look to rest a few starters. As the USMNT showed earlier this year at RFK in DC, we are very capable of beating a 2nd-string German squad.

There are many interesting subplots as well, as U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann will be going against his home country, the nation he led to World Cup glory in 1990 and coached between 2004 and 2006. On top of that, there will likely be 3-4 German-American players on the US roster (Jermaine Jones and Fabian Johnson for sure, as well as possibly Terrence Boyd, Timmy Chandler and John Anthony Brooks). Call me crazy, but I get the feeling we may need to win this one to advance and for some reason I think it might just happen.

Final thoughts

I like our team, and I think Klinsmann is a master motivator. I also like that we’re not going to be favored to advance and the pressure is somewhat reduced. We desperately need to beat the team we’re supposed to beat in Ghana, and for some reason I just have a feeling that we’ll find a way to steal a point from Germany or Portugal and get through to the Round of 16.

So what do you think? Does the USA find a way to advance to the Round of 16 out of the Group of Death?

You can follow Andrew Marcinko on Twitter @FootyAmerica or visit his blog at www.footyamerica.com

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