The 2014 World Cup is just seven months away. The draw is out, and we’ve analyzed the USA’s group. Here’s a more granular look at their first opponent, Ghana. We’ll do the same with Portugal and Germany.
USA – Ghana soccer history: Ghana 4-0 with two wins in 1983, and World Cup triumphs in 2006 (2-1) and 2010 (2-1).
Ghana 2, USA 1 in 2006: Ugly game that eliminated the US, mercifully ending a horrible World Cup. Ghana took a 1-0 lead, then Clint Dempsey answered with a goal right before the half to tie the game. Then, a questionable foul in the penalty area in first half stoppage time gave Ghana a PK and a 2-1 lead. The US lost captain Claudia Reyna to injury in the 40th minute and struggled to generate offense. Offensive woes at the World Cup were a major theme in 2006 and 2010.
Ghana 2, USA 1 in 2010: Round of 16 defeat happened after giving up an extra-time goal to Asamoah Gyan. As was the case for much of 2010, the US gave up an early goal and had to play catch-up. Midfielder Ricardo Clark was so bad early he was subbed out just 31 minutes in. A Landon Donovan PK tied the game in the second half. The extra-time goal happened – wait for it – just two minutes into OT.
Ghana’s 2012 World Cup qualifying: Rolled through their group in Africa with a 6-2 mark, with 25 goals scored and just six permitted. The game everyone will talk about is the 6-1 whitewash of Egypt … which was coached by former US coach Bob Bradley. Have you seen how young this roster is? Ghana has one player (star MF Michael Essien) over the age of 30. While this isn’t a completely different offense than the one that lost to Uruguay in penalty kicks in the 2010 Cup quarterfinals, all of the defensive starters could be World Cup rookies if two holdovers from 2010 (injured Jonathan Mensah and Isaac Vorsah) don’t win back their starting jobs by June.
Stats: ESPN’s Nate Silver has Ghana as the longest shot to escape from the Group of the Death. He says there’s a 71% chance Ghana is eliminated in group play. Silver has the US as having a 60.6% chance of getting eliminated; Portugal is at 59.7%.
Here’s my best case scenario, 191 days prior to the opener: Defeat Ghana, tie Portugal, and then salvage a tie against a loaded German team that has already qualified for the Round of 16 with two wins. Yes, I’ve got the US advancing out of the Group of Death. And here’s the best part: Should they advance, the US might actually be ‘favored’ in the Round of 16 game against Belgium, Russia or South Korea.
I can’t fully explain it (yet), but I feel this is a well-rounded and strong US team, the best the country has fielded since 2002. It has experienced stars – Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey – probably playing in their last Cup. And you’ve got up-and-coming players like Jozy Altidore (who struggled in the 2010 Cup) and Aron Johannsson. The defense will certainly be the key, especially in the first two games against offensive-minded Ghana and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Jurgen Klinsmann has a few more months to settle on his two fullbacks, which are the team’s two biggest question marks right now.