Klinnsman has made it a point since he took over the job to schedule high profile opponents and play in tough environments. That is looking like a brilliant move on his part. the USA have tough opponents in its near future, so that experience of beating big teams over the last 18 months is about to become all that more important as the USA has a couple of European heavyweights in its group. Klinnsman, unlike his predecessors, is not afraid to attack these big nations rather than sit back and defend. Which is a good thing. The US is unlikely to sit back and play for a draw, which can lead to giving up a goal late. The US will need to be smart in now over committing, but they have plenty of time to talk tactics between now and then.
Getting drawn into the most difficult group has a ton of drawbacks, but there are a few positives. As seen in past world cups, being in the "group of death" means you don't need 6 or 7 points to get out of the group. 4-5 is more than enough. The key games will be against Ghana and Portugal. Germany is a clear favorite in the group, and seeing the US plays them in the final game, we don't want to be in the position where we need not only a win, but a 2 - 3 goal win to make our way through. We play Ghana first, which might be a good thing because the Black Stars have a nasty habit of knocking us out of competitions, maybe playing them in a non-elimination game will help us exorcise our World Cup demons against them. The good news is that Klinnsman seems to have been an excorist in another life because the list of "firsts" under Klinnsman is a list that continues to grow. First win at Azteca. First win against Italy. Several wins on the European continent. The US haven't forgotten the last 2 world cups, and Klinnsman will have them fired up and ready to go come June for their opener against and old foe.
If we get a win in the opener, then that will take a lot of pressure off of the Portugal game, but again, we cannot afford a big loss. The key to that game will be simply containing one of the top soccer players in the world. No Biggie. But, if we beat Ghana in the opener, a tie here might be enough. One thing the USA will have going for it is that they will be playing in the Amazon for this game. You may wonder why I say this is a bonus, but I say it with little trepidation. The US, with its geographic position, can prepare for heat and humitidity. While they won't be able to go hang out in the amazon, the USA has places it can train that are hot and humid year round. Likewise, at least a fair number of the US players are based in the MLS where they play in the summer (used to hot weather) and have pretty rigorous travel schedules (compared to most European clubs). I am not saying the yanks are going to blow out Ronaldo and co., but anything they have going for them is a nice bonus. And again, a draw in this game might be enough.
The good news about getting Germany in the finale is that they may have already clinched first place in the group. If that is the case, we may seem a slightly weaker German side. Now, a slightly weaker German side is still better than almost any team we faced in qualification (maybe every team we faced in qualification), but, again, we will take what we can get. If we are sitting on 4 points from the first 2 games, we can punch our ticket to the second round with a draw here more than likely. Even a 1 goal loss may not knock us out. Another added bonus is that Klinnsman knows the German side better than almost anyone having both played and managed them. As we saw in the Centennial game back in June of this year. The US had the Germans well scouted and that game propelled the Yanks on a nice little win streak over the next couple of months. No I am not saying we should expect a W against Germany in the World Cup. I am simply saying, of the soccer powers we could have drawn, this is by no short margin the worst that could have happened.
If the US can get out of the group stage, which is possible, they are in much better shape than in World Cups past. Based on how the draw worked out, they will play their round of 16 game against one of the Group H sides (which is one of the weakest groups) and then we would get a team from group E or F in the Quarterfinals which only shows 1 really strong side (Argentina) who could conceivably end up on the other side of the bracket. Again, I am not coming out and saying the US is going to make the semifinals, but if they can survive the trial by fire that is the group stage. Klinnsman could have a team poised to make a run deep into the tournament, because if you can get past the likes of Portugal and Germany.... Belgium, Russia, Switzerland, Bosnia, France and Switzerland don't seem quite as daunting.
The next few months, and the friendlies that come with them, are crucial for the U.S., now that they know their opponents, who and where they play are all the more important. I would like to see the US schedule games against a side like Argentina (help prepare for Ronaldo and portugal) and top European sides (to get a taste for Germany). The goal here should no be to build confidence and stats against a CONCACAF or Asian side, but to prepare our players for what they are going to face. Our backline is still relatively inexperienced and our goal scorers are streaky. Giving them the chance to play against some top sides (preferably in places like Miami or similar cities) to provide not only some learning opportunities, but to give some individuals the chance to prove they are up to the challenge, will be key for the US moving forward.
The biggest take away in this World Cup, regardless of the result, will be the US's chance to prove if they belong or if they don't. They had a similar chance in 2006 and laid an egg on the biggest stage getting 1 point and finishing in last place of their group. Klinnsman is relishingin the chance to help the US prove they belong, and if things go well, 2014 could have an exciting run in store for the US.
Thanks for reading,
T.O. signing out