Houston Dynamo center back David Horst offers up his thoughts on Monday's US vs. Ghana World Cup match.
Look up a must-win scenario in the dictionary and you might just see the USA-Ghana game as the current definition. Group G is very strong and includes the likes of Germany and Portugal, and so it will be very important for the US to get off on the right foot, as every point will matter. History has proven that if the US doesn't obtain at least one point from their first game, they will not advance out of group play. In the last two World Cups the US has been knocked out of the tournament by Ghana, so they will be looking to avenge both those losses, and prove to everyone that they belong in the same conversation with some of the world's best teams.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Even though the World Cup is still in its early stages, many of the coaches have already complained about the effects the weather has had on their players. Games are being played in stadiums where temperatures are reaching the high 80’s and the humidity is making it feel even hotter. Run of play is being slowed down by players that are cramping and others that are flat-out running out of energy. Along with the heat, the USA-Ghana game is predicted to be played in a torrential downpour. No matter the weather at game time, it will surely have an effect on the performance of the players.
Containing Ghana's Counterattack
Ghana is well known for a style of play where their defense will sit deep, absorb the pressure, and spring their forwards and wingers once they've won possession. They've been very successful playing this way, as proven by their 7-3 aggregate win over Egypt in the qualifying playoffs. The US defense must organize early and be aware of where Ghana's forwards are, at all times. If they fall asleep even one time, Ghana will punish them. In the US’s last tune up game against Nigeria, they played Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones next to each other deep in the midfield, thus enabling the defense to snuff out any counterattacks early and often.
Getting Jozy Altidore Involved Early
Sometimes forwards are strange creatures. They can disappear for long periods of time during a game, have one moment of brilliance, and win the match for their team. They can also be involved for the whole 90 minutes, seeing a lot of the ball and not score at all. For the US to be successful, they need to feed Jozy early and often so that he doesn't become frustrated and check out mentally. The more involved he feels, the more likely it is that he will chase balls dumped into the corner and harass defenders deep in the offensive end. Jozy Altidore has proven himself to be the US’s best forward, so the more involved he is, the better their chances are to win the game.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The Lynchpin for the Black Stars’ Offense.
Gyan has spearheaded Ghana's attack for a long time, scoring the goal that eliminated the US from the last World Cup. He has played at the highest level in Europe and has the experience that many of his fellow forwards are lacking. Jordan Ayew is pushing for a spot in Ghana's offense, so Gyan will have something to prove to maintain his spot throughout this World Cup.
Michael Bradley -- General of the US Midfield
Many people have said that he made a mistake coming back to MLS right before the World Cup, so he will be playing with a chip on his shoulder to prove all his doubters wrong. Depending on how the US ends up playing, Bradley will be the one who connects the defense and the forwards. Eyes will be on him, not just from US but from around the world, so he will have to prove that he belongs among the elite.
Clint Dempsey -- Captain America.
Many people have also doubted his decision to return to MLS, but he has proven them wrong with his performances in the early part of this season, and the tune up games before the World Cup. I said earlier that the US will need to feed Jozy early and often, and Clint will have to shoulder much of the responsibility. He has the ability and the experience to carry the US through these next few grueling weeks and cement his legacy in US soccer history.
This is a US team that has heard every day, since the World Cup draw, that they can't advance out of their group. They have used every bit of this doubt as motivation to prepare for their first game. In 2002 the US was predicted from the very beginning not to advance, and they proved the world wrong in their first game, beating Portugal 3-2. With the expected weather, and the excitement of the first game, this match could open up very quickly. I believe the US will once again win 3-2.