The United States (and Jurgen Klinsmann) need to beat Ghana in World Cup opening match
In the past two World Cups, the Americans have bid bitter adieu to the competition at the hands of the Black Stars, who—first in Nuremberg and then in Rustenburg—dealt the knockout blow to the USA’s tournament dreams.
To add insult to injury, the United States was also ushered out of last year’s under-20 World Cup by the Ghanaians, a third decisive defeat over the Yanks in international competition that added some varnish to Ghana’s reputation as America’s World Cup nemesis.
For this reason, while any pundit would classify Monday’s opening match in Natal between these two nations as a crucial fixture in a group alongside Portugal and Germany, the already-high stakes of the clash have been amplified by American media to an intensity that feels more like cup final than tournament opener.
Nobody feels that pressure more than US national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann, who has become the most talked-about member of the American World Cup team, despite the fact that he won’t touch a ball in Brazil.
From axing leading goalscorer and sporting icon Landon Donovan to last-minute tactical upheaval to a sweeping critique of basketball star Kobe Bryant and big-money contracts in American sports, Klinsmann’s every action has been headline-making, every word seized upon by the press.
This media attention has meant a long, strange road to the World Cup for Klinsmann, who has quickly gone from media darling and lauded tactician-in-chief to a man whose pre-tournament actions have invited scepticism and even uncurbed anger—coming to a head when an ESPN presenter demanded the former German international ‘get out of America.’
The unremitting negative press may have its upside, however, as Klinsmann’s relatively untested team—featuring only five players with any World Cup experience—has been afforded the opportunity to go into Brazil out of the media’s crosshairs with the focus trained squarely on their manager.
Though largely untried in major tournaments, the squad boasts proven talent with experience across Europe’s best leagues, including Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard, former Roma midfielder Michael Bradley, and forward Clint Dempsey, who tallied 50 career goals for Fulham—a core that guided the Americans to the top of England’s Group C at the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
The team also boasts seven dual-internationals at their first World Cup—including 19-year-old Julian Green, who made a brief cameo this year for Bayern Munich in the Champions League—and nine players from Major League Soccer, where Dempsey and Bradley now play.
The Yanks won their three warm-up matches against Azerbaijan, Turkey, and Nigeria and seem to have particularly gelled in the last friendly, moving back toward a 4-2-3-1 formation that bears more resemblance to what was deployed in qualifying.
Klinsmann has already said that the Americans won’t lift the World Cup—but they will need to win against Ghana.
Anything less would prove catastrophic to the United States’ chances in Brazil—and damaging to Klinsmann’s legacy, should he become yet another American manager undone by Ghana.