Due to the fact that people other than my mom read the first article I've decided to forge ahead with this World Cup coverage in a timely manner. Today's match with the Deutschlanders may not be our most important game of the tournament but it is still incredibly vital for the U.S. team to secure a spot in the Round of 16. Let's take a look at how we got here.
Four goals in our first two games against good competition is an acceptable output. The midfield was sloppy and uninspired in our lucky victory against Ghana but they really redeemed themselves against Portugal. Michael Bradly has taken a lot of heat so far in this tournament but he has deserved most of it. He did play much better against Portugal but most U.S. fans will find it hard to remember anything other than the 94th minute giveaway. The U.S. defense has continued its traditional path of general solidarity with occasionally fatal errors. Tim Howard has looked confident but not perfect.
In their first game against Portugal the Germans absolutely looked like the best team in the world. Their steady possession and clinical finishing made short work of an excellent team. When I tuned in to watch this match open up the Group G play I expected to see an instant classic. Instead I saw a talented, energetic and intelligent German side absolutely smash another quality opponent.
While I still believe Germany are favorites to win this World Cup, the match with Ghana showed that they are not invincible. The same constant pressure that gave team USA trouble allowed Ghana to play with the Germans as equals. German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer has looked excellent so far in this tournament, and the German defense seems organized and tough to beat. Their offense is not flashy but it is patient and deadly.
Tip-off is set for 12 noon and the game will be broadcast by ESPN. If you're interested, the Portugal - Ghana match will run simultaneously on ESPN2.
I expect the U.S. team to come out with the same lineup that started against Portugal. While there is no one else on the team that can replicate what Jozy Altidore does at the top, I think Graham Zusi brings more to the table than Aron Johannsson. Clint Dempsey has played an amazing World Cup so far and was very effective at striker against Portugal.
Going into the tournament I think most U.S. fans expected Michael Bradly to have the #1 influence on the American attack but so far that duty has been better performed by Dempsey and Jermaine Jones. Bradly did play better against Portugal (brain farts and all) and he should continue to improve against Germany as teams begin to realize that the U.S. are not a 1 dimensional team.
The American midfield, especially Bradly and Zusi, will need to take better care of the ball and connect on a higher percentage of passes. The U.S. also needs Fabian Johnson to continue making dangerous runs out of the back. Our attack looked at its absolute best when Portugal was struggling to deal with him in their defensive half. Most importantly the back line needs to avoid the kind of bad clearances/errant passes/randomly terrible marking that sank our hopes in past World Cup matches.
I expect Germany to come out with the same lineup they have used in their first 2 matches. Their entire complement of attacking players work well together and Thomas Müller continues to be a wrecking ball. His propensity to find the right place at the right time really worries me because he is the sort of player who will take advantage of silly mistakes by our defense. Mesut Özil has the quickness to find gaps if our defenders are careless.
Germany will look to exploit free kick and corner kick opportunities as they are the tallest team in the World Cup. Their defense will focus on containing Clint Dempsey and will look to be more careful with the ball than they were against Ghana. The last thing they want to do in this particular match is put unnecessary pressure on their team with a risky/sloppy pass.
The longer this game progresses with no score, the more likely these teams are to let off the gas near the end. I wouldn't be surprised to see Germany sub out key players early in the second half, and USA coach Jurgen Klinsmann may use the same strategy for the U.S. As a reminder to our newer fans, a player who already has a yellow card who picks up a second card in this game will then miss the following match. There are no German players with a yellow card but Jermaine Jones of the American side must be very careful to avoid a yellow because he would be greatly missed if the U.S. then advance to the Round of 16. This certainly makes him a prime candidate for an early exit provided the U.S. aren't in a bad position.
The Bottom Line
There will be no "conspiracy" between the U.S. and Germany as these top level athletes simply have no need to do anything other than come out and play hard. A win or a draw will see the U.S. on to the next round. The U.S. are up two on Ghana and four on Portugal in goal differential so even a close loss won't necessarily sink the Americans.
Beating Germany is a tall task but this U.S. team absolutely has the skill. A draw is much more likely but will still take incredible effort because if this German team really wants to score, they will eventually score. I hope you can find the time to watch the game today; it's got world class players and an uneasy tension that should keep it interesting throughout!