The FIFA World Cup is set to kick off this Thursday, and America is expecting results despite the fact that they have been put in the so-called ‘group of death’ with Ghana, Portugal, and Germany. These expectations have been bolstered by the American national football team’s recent success against Nigeria in an international friendly. Not only did the Americans defeat Nigeria by a score of two to one, a number of players demonstrated their quality, and attempted to answer the questions that have been circulating since the appointment of Jurgen Klinsmann as head coach.
Particularly important in Saturday’s match up was the fact that the American defence appeared to be much more solid than previously expected, a phenomenon which some analysts have attributed to Klinsmann’s decision to play Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman in midfield. Furthermore, Jozy Altidore ended his long goalless drought by scoring twice, something which the Americans will likely be relying on in the upcoming FIFA World Cup. Altidore, who started all four of America’s games at the 2010 World Cup, has scored 21 times in 68 international appearances, and is one of the biggest offensive threats remaining on the American side since Landon Donovan was ruled out of the FIFA World Cup.
However, analysts have called into question the quality of the American defensive unit, and these questions need to be addressed if America expects positive results in Group G of the FIFA World Cup. DaMarcus Beasley, the American left back, has been seen as a particularly significant liability due to his offensive mentality and his somewhat pedestrian defensive abilities. Both of these attributes could be exploited by the other teams in Group G, whether it be by the speed of Ghanaians such as Andre Ayew and Mubarak Wakaso, or the individual brilliance of players such as Cristiano Ronaldo. Klinsmann has attempted to address these questions regarding the American defence, namely by inserting defensive minded players into the starting 11, but the defensive corps is still expected to struggle in Brazil.
If the American defence does falter in Brazil, the pressure will be transferred onto Tim Howard, one of only five Americans on the roster who have any experience in the FIFA World Cup. Howard recently appeared in his 100 game for the American national team, and has more wins than any other goalkeeper in American footballing history, and this experience may be the factor which propels the United States out of the group stages and into the elimination rounds. Although Howard has acknowledged the difficulties posed by the other teams in Group G, he has maintained that the ultimate goal is still to win the tournament, as anything less than total victory leaves room for doubt.
The Americans will open the tournament against Ghana on the 16 of June, meaning that they still have roughly one week to finalize their preparations for the tournament. Despite the persistent questions surrounding their team, the Americans have maintained an optimistic outlook for the FIFA World Cup, and have made it clear that they expect positive results. The only question that remains is whether or not Jurgen Klinsmann and his squad will be able to meet their own expectations, or whether they will be overwhelmed by the abundance of talent in Group G.
By Nicholas Grabe