The Cup Running Over

June 25, 2010 4:52 PM

USA-Ghana Preview: A Pick 'Em Game


The Good News: By now, everyone in the US knows the good news: This is a very aggressive team that can come from behind in the clutch. It also has a great keeper in Tim Howard. So far, the defense has been better than advertised.

The Bad News:
The obvious follow-up question: What were the Americans doing even having to snatch games from disaster at the last minute against the likes of distinctly mediocre teams such as Algeria and Slovenia? The defense still gives up too many convertible chances. It's also not a particularly good strategy to continually play from behind. The US and its supporters may also be overconfident (one online poll had 90% of Americans expecting the team to win). Yes, the US won its group but it was a very weak one.

The US won its group for the first time since 1930. It last got out of the group in 2002 when it went to the quarters, losing narrowly to Germany 1-0. Other than a 2nd round exit at home in 1994, the only other time it got out of the group was in 1930 too.

Player to Watch:
Everyone will be watching Landon Donovan after his heroics in the first round but unless Howard and Clint Dempsey have superlative games, the US probably can't win.

To Win:
Scoring first would be a huge advantage, even if the team does play well when behind. The team needs to keep up its impressive shot-per-game rate and also still needs someone to play the holding midfielder position effectively and stay back on defense because without that, the team is constantly vulnerable on the break.

The game may well hinge on whether Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan can convert his chances.


The Good News: Even without injured superstar Michael Essien, a very young Ghana team has played smart, tactical soccer, controlling possession with a strong midfield while looking good on defense too. For the second tournament in a row, Ghana managed to survive the "group of death," and as the only African entry left, it should have "home continent" advantage and a huge enthusiastic crowd in support. It also played much tougher teams than the US to get here.

The Bad News:
Ghana still hasn't scored from open play at the tournament; its two goals have been on penalty kicks. And it hasn't scored more than one goal in a game since last November (and that includes performances in the African Nations Cup -- 13 in all). To move on, the offense will have to convert its chances better -- which is where it shows the most how much this team misses Essien.

Ghana made the Cup for the first time in 2006 and got out of the group (beating the US 2-1), only to then lose to Brazil 3-0.

Player to Watch:
Ghana's midfield and defense are strong but it's the two players with question marks who need to step up: Keeper Richard Kingson and lone striker, Asamoah Gyan, who has potential but is inconsistent.

To Win:
Control possession, take the air out of the ball, and after the US makes an offensive foray, strike consistently and accurately on the break. Everyone knows Ghana can create chances. It's converting them where the trouble lies.

Going into the tournament, we had Ghana going to the semis, but that was before the injury to Essien. The team has played well without him, but the knockout rounds are a step up and Ghana needs to be more clinical in its finishing than before. Sooner or later, this young team will prove too inconsistent to win and if the game goes to penalty kicks, the USA has an advantage in net with Howard. Man-for-man Ghana has the better team on defense, the US on offense. Premier League-hardened Dempsey and Howard could make the difference. 

A Member Of