It may sound like a simple answer, but it really is, Team USA must beat Germany and Portugal in order to make it to the knockout stage of the 2014 World Cup. As predictable of an answer as this may be, the gravity of the situation, in terms of making this thought a reality, is growing more and more with each passing day.
USA was unfortunately selected into the “Group of Death” for the up-coming World Cup, which will be held this coming June in Brazil. Getting past the group stage has not been a problem for the Americans the past two World Cups, what has been the issue, though, is making it past the first round of the knockout stage. Losing both of their previous two times in the round of 16 to Ghana, the U.S. must find a way to finally overcome their inability to score goals when the games are of the utmost importance.
One of the biggest knocks of the U.S. squad is lack of scoring goals. Sure, they may have great players like Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Demarcus Beasley, but when they all have struggled to be consistent goal scores when the game in on the line, it spells disaster. In no way am I saying these players are not important, I am simply stating that in order for USA to achieve success, these three especially, need to step-up their level of play. The offense has gotten a serious face-lift over the past few months with the additions of midfielder Graham Zusi and forward Aron Johannson. Each one of these players brings something new and fresh to the table, giving the U.S. more options at attack, something that will be needed to keep up with the big European powers.
Of the back-line and in-goal, consistency has been a factor, but thankfully, goalie Tim Howard has risen to the occasion and proven recently just how reliable he can be. Howard has been playing his absolute best for Everton and is building key experience against top-level midfielders and strikers. Brad Guzan has also made a solid case for why he should be considered for the starting job with his terrific play at Aston Villa this season. Having two solid options in goal is something the U.S. is not use to having, so it is a welcome “problem” to have.
Omar Gonzalez has emerged as a star for the national team and for his club, the L.A. Galaxy. Being a big, strong and exceptionally tall defender has its perks. Gonzalez not only is a force on defense, be he is even more deadly when he moves up for corner kicks. If the U.S. can force corner kicks, watch for A.J. to be the main target in the air.
Obviously, the U.S. would love to win every game of their group and move on two the round of 16, but it really will come down to how well the team is able to contain star players like Cristiano Ronaldo for Portugal and the numerous attacking players for Germany. Regardless of if you think Ghana is a real threat or not, they have knocked us out of the past two World Cups. That fact alone, gives them an unspoken edge over USA.
The opportunity is there for USA to make the final 16, but it will only come if senior players are able to rise to the occasion and make monumental plays when they matter. Donovan and Dempsey will be called on heavily to make sure the dreams of a nation make it all the way to the World Cup Finals. Something, any soccer fan would absolutely love to see. The possibility is there, it all just comes down to how well these players are able to perform when it matters most.