Why the USMNT's Opening World Cup Game Will Be More Exciting than You Think
This World Cup will begin exactly as it ended for the United States men's national team and Ghana. When we last left these two teams, Ghana was eliminating the Stars and Stripes 2-1 in extra time to advance in the Knockout Stages (the second consecutive World Cup that Ghana eliminated USA, by the way). It was the only loss for the USMNT, but it was clearly the most costly.
The 2014 World Cup starts with a chance for revenge - an opportunity to act upon four years of rumination. While the World Cup will begin as it ended, hopefully it will have a different result for team USA. Unless you’re Ghanaian, of course.
Our game simulator gives Ghana a 36.23% chance to win the game, while the USA has a 30.58% chance. The game has a 33.19% chance to end in a draw. So if you’re keeping score - and we here at numberfire always keep score - the likelihood of outcomes in descending order is: Ghana wins, draw, USA wins. Our numbers, in other words, indicate a repeat of history.
They say if you don’t know your history, you are doomed to repeat it. There is no doubt, however, that the U.S. knows their recent history with Ghana. So how do they go about ensuring it does not repeat itself?
The best thing they can do is to act aggressively, as it’s basically a must win for both teams. The two other teams in the Group are Germany and Portugal; dubbed the ‘Group of Death’ by many. Both Ghana and the USA know that their next two games will be extremely harder than this first one. Getting into a hole and losing the opener will be less than desirable. But, it's my belief that a draw will be almost as demoralizing. You need to get points when they are readily gettable, and they won’t be in the next two games. This will force the hand of both teams to be more daring. Combine that with a Ghanian defense that replaced experienced center backs with relative youngsters, and it would behoove the Americans to attack, for many reasons.
If anything good is going to happen for the USMNT, it has to go through Michael Bradley. He's everything for this team: destroyer, scorer, maestro (the kind of maestro that dictates play, not the kind that refuses to let Jerry Seinfeld rent a house in Tuscany). He's their best player and needs to take on the leadership role after the omission of Landon Donovan. By our metrics for this game, the USA is expected to score 1.22 goals. It's highly likely that Michael Bradley will be involved in some way in that scoring, whether it's breaking up a play that results in a break, or putting the ball into the net.
Let’s discuss tactics. No one is 100% sure how Jurgen Klinsmann will set this team up. Historically, the USA has been very defensive-based team with counterattacking tendencies. However, in 2013, they abandoned that approach for a more possession-based style that played on the front foot. They're going to need that aggressiveness in this game. If Klinsmann is smart, and let’s assume he is, he'll go for it. Defensive stability will be the name of the game against Germany and Portugal. Now is the time to attack.
Ghana is no pushover. They have their very own Cris Carter, and all Cris did was score touchdowns. All Asamoah Gyan does for Ghana is score goals. 59 of them to be precise, in 47 appearances. Gyan will be extra motivated after missing a crucial penalty kick in 2010 after the infamous Luis Suarez handball. Gyan will be assisted by an offensive-minded manager, who prefers a 4-4-3 formation. This goes well with the fact that Ghana’s defense is subpar, to put it nicely. Ghana’s Total score of 1.44, higher than you would expect, reflects these characteristics.
Ghana has a nERD advantage of 2.15 to 2.06 over the Americans, and like I said, our numbers indicate a close game with Ghana winning. While I'm not predicting a USA win, what I will predict is more goals and excitement than you expect. These are two teams that have had recent success in playing attacking football, and two teams that have some defensive frailties. They're also two teams that know their upcoming games will be like Rocky vs. Ivan Drago-level hard.
All the pieces are there for a wonderful game. The USA needs to place them a different way than they did in 2006 and 2010. Same teams, hopefully a different result. Get your popcorn ready.