2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Wait is finally over as US readies for Ghana

Published: June 16, 2014, 6:12 am, by Scott Kaniewski
United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann, back left, looks on as his team warms up on Sunday in Natal, Brazil.  (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann, back left, looks on as his team warms up on Sunday in Natal, Brazil. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

What’s it going to be: A 4-4-2 in a diamond shape? A flat 4-4-2? A 4-2-3-1 with a big emphasis on defending and counterattacking? A hybrid? Something we’ve never seen before from a US squad? Does it matter?

The wait has finally ended. Five days into a World Cup that’s quickly turning into the unexpected, Team USA finally gets to show what Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad can do. And American fans finally get to see their team in action against nemesis Ghana on Monday at 4 p.m.

Ghana, also known as the Black Stars, have sent the USA packing the last two times the teams have met — eliminating them in the first round of the knockout stages four years ago and preventing them from getting out of group play in 2006.

Now, Ghana can’t send the US home, but they can make a path to the knockout stages from World Cup 2014 all but impossible.

The US has one big difference from 2010 in Klinsmann. The American coach has done things his way every step of the way since taking over in 2011, from bringing in a large contingent of German-American players to leaving all-time leading American scorer Landon Donovan off the squad to do some side work in a TV studio.

And Klinsmann, a 1990 World Cup champion as a striker with West Germany, knows what it takes to win the sport’s biggest competition.

“It’s pretty much like a knockout game,” he said of the opener, speaking to fans last month in Times Square.

The US and Ghana are in Group G with Germany and Portugal. The group has been dubbed the famed “Group of Death” for being the toughest group in the tournament (though Costa Rica’s shock 3-1 win over Uruguay makes Group D a pretty good candidate too with England and Italy in it).

The US need a win Monday over Ghana. A loss and the US will face nearly insurmountable odds to get out of the group. A draw would help but not much. A victory and the US will be no worse than sitting in second heading to their second game against Portugal (Sunday).

Midfielder Michael Bradley knows how important avoiding a loss is.

“Statistically, the chances of advancing go way up now if you’re able to get a point or three from the first game,” he told the Associated Press, “and so we’ve certainly made no secret of the fact that all the focus at this point is about Ghana, and making sure that we do everything we can, so that on June 16, we step on the field and are ready to leave it all out there, knowing that a good result puts us in a really good spot.”

Against Ghana, the US will have its best chance of its three games to control possession. But Bradley and his midfield teammates of Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi and probably Alejandro Bedoya will need to work extremely hard to hold onto the ball and to get it back as soon as possible whenever they lose possession.

That’s where all those different formations come in. In the US’ final friendly, nine days ago, Klinsmann deployed a slightly more defensive strategy than his team had done in its previous three games. The results were a stifling effort against a Nigeria squad that will also open World Cup play Monday. But the defensive system also allowed for a quick-transitioning counterattack. The players in the midfield and defense looked more comfortable playing it than they did in the 4-4-2 diamond formation.

The win over Nigeria showed the back line (at least in the first half) could handle a speedy attack. The win got forward Jozy Altidore off the scoring snide and onto the scoring sheet, not once by twice. The win gave the US some much-needed confidence in themselves and their coach.

Klinsmann has tinkered with formations. He’s tinkered with lineups. He’s tinkered with rosters.

On Monday, the man in charge of American soccer and who told the New York Times that the US can’t win this World Cup will finally get the chance to show he knows what he’s talking about.

 Join Scott Kaniewski at gazette.com for a live chat during the US v. Ghana game kicking off at 4 p.m. Readers can submit questions and comments throughout the match. Also follow Scott on Twitter at @scottkaniewski5