The 2014 FIFA World Cup has been high-scoring, fun, and wet, and now it's the US' turn to participate. Jurgen Klinsmann's squad takes the field in Natal this evening after a rather impressive undercard.
11:00 a.m. CT
Group G: Germany vs. Portugal
2:00 p.m. CT
Group F: Iran vs. Nigeria
5:00 p.m. CT
Group G: Ghana vs. United States
Need a Ghana primer? Here you go.
Many of the top African sides are known more for their size and speed than their creative passing, but the Ivory Coast have Yaya Touré and Nigeria have experienced success playing John Obi Mikel as an advanced playmaker. Ghana, meanwhile, has gone through the last four years without a true central playmaker. Asamoah is good technically, but he doesn't play the kind of creative balls through the center that most teams expect from their No. 10s. Kevin-Prince Boateng's return to the squad gives the Black Stars the kind of player who can thread clever passes through opposing defenses and his return could change their style a bit.
Ghana's biggest asset is probably their stable of talented wide players. André Ayew is the biggest star on the flanks, but he's got competition. Christian Atsu is just as tricky of a dribbler as Ayew and had a great season in the Eredivisie. Majeed Waris, who scored nine goals in half a Ligue 1 season this year, can play at striker as well as a winger, but he's more likely to get time out wide. Two of these three will probably start and will be depended on to create for center forward Asamoah Gyan as well as chip in with a few goals themselves.
Expect to see a packed midfield, Asamoah and Boateng spraying passes out wide, and Gyan looking to pounce on loose balls in the penalty area.
This is not Bob Bradley or Bruce Arena's USMNT. Those teams could sit deep, defend and steal points with their counter-attacking. Klinsmann's teams are more ambitious and like to keep the ball. Whether they can play like that against sides of the quality of Germany or Portugal and still take points remains to be seen. [...]
Recently, Klinsmann has been experimenting with a diamond-shaped midfield, and recent results suggest he might end up sticking with it. They outplayed Mexico in a friendly with the diamond before both teams made wholesale changes in the second half, and he continued with the concept in recent wins over Azerbaijan and Turkey. It's a system built around the talents of Michael Bradley, whom a number of fans have been hoping would be pushed into a central attacking midfield role for quite some time. It also moves Clint Dempsey out of that role and into a strike partnership with Jozy Altidore, which makes better use of the Seattle Sounders star’s poaching abilities.
If Klinsmann sticks with this system, the fullbacks will be key. They'll have to provide most of the width going forward, while also ensuring that they don't get caught too far up the pitch when the U.S. loses the ball, a difficult balance to strike. The diamond might give the U.S. a chance of winning the midfield battle against superior opponents, but it's not clear if their fullbacks will be able to perform in a more challenging role.