FOX Soccer Exclusive
Americans must forget about payback
PRETORIA, South Africa
The U.S. men’s national team could think about revenge when it faces Ghana in Saturday’s World Cup Round of 16 matchup, but the Americans have more important things to focus on than payback.
Yes, beating Ghana would avenge a bitter defeat in the 2006 World Cup, the loss that eliminated the Americans and led to a period of transition for the U.S. national team program, but the team’s success in this World Cup has already healed those wounds and given the team new goals.
First among them is winning Saturday and reaching the World Cup quarterfinals for the second time in three tournaments.
To do that, the United States must break down a strong and disciplined Ghana team that has played even better than the Ghanaian team that beat the Americans four years ago in Germany.
“I’ve been impressed with them,” said U.S. national team star Landon Donovan. “I thought they would struggle a little bit without (Michael) Essien, but I think they’ve looked very good.
“They’re going to be a very difficult team to play against,” Donovan said. “Their athleticism will be difficult to deal with.”
Donovan was one of the handful of American players who were on the field for the U.S. team’s loss to Ghana in 2006. He came under heavy scrutiny for his disappointing performance that day, and called it a low point in his career.
“That was not a good a day for me or for the team,” Donovan said. “What I remember most was my tentativeness and the immediate feeling afterwards, the finality of it and how disappointing that was.”
If the Americans are going to avoid another disappointing end at the hand of the ‘Black Stars’, they will need to win the battle in midfield, where Ghana has enjoyed an advantage throughout the tournament. Playing a 4-5-1 formation that stifles opposing midfields and limits opponents chances, Ghana has been able control possession for long stretches.
Offensively, Ghana has struggled to create chances, and the African squad has managed just two penalty kick goals, both by Asamoah Gyan, in the group stage. The United States could see the return of Oguchi Onyewu to the lineup after he missed the match against Algeria to rest his surgically-repaired knee.
It remains to be seen whether the United States will adjust its own formation to cope with the extra man in midfield for Ghana, or stick to its traditional 4-4-2. One option for the Americans is to play Clint Dempsey at forward, where he can shift between a withdrawn forward and central midfield role. That move would allow U.S. coach Bob Bradley to start Benny Feilhaber on the left flank to help give the Americans a bit more strength in the possession game.
Bradley could just stick with an attack that has been creating chances in bunches lately, with the speedy Robbie Findley back from suspension. The United States has shown a willingness to attack in its past two matches, an approach that may not work as well against a disciplined Ghana defense.
“It’s great talking about offense all the time,” Altidore said. “I’m paying attention in meetings now, they’re not just talking about defense. It’s good. We’re talking about how to get Clint, myself and Landon the ball so that’s always exciting.
“It’s good because I think, with our team, we have a lot of young players and with each game we’re improving,” Altidore said. “It’s good to have that, and going forward I think we have a lot of bright spots.”
Fatigue could play a factor in a match that will be played just three days after both the United States and Ghana played their final group matches. The Americans can draw on their experiences in last summer’s Confederations Cup, when they overcame a quick turnaround time to upset Spain.
“We’re not worried about the quick turnaround, which is good,” Donovan said. “Last year, the games happened so fast, and this time it was almost a little relaxing to have some much time (between games).
“I think we’re prepared for this. A lot of our guys have played Saturday or Sunday games in Europe and traveled across the ocean to play in qualifiers two or three days later so from that standpoint there’s absolutely no issues.”
The Americans also have a lot of confidence after a pair of thrilling results to reach the Round of 16. Their success in this World Cup, coupled with the successful run to last summer’s Confederations Cup final, has this U.S. team believing it can go further than most could have expected before the World Cup began.
“Now, we feel, like I’ve always said, that we can compete and beat any team in the world,” Donovan said. “Saturday happens to be Ghana. We’re going to throw everything we can at them.”
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering the U.S. national team and Major League Soccer.