Will Confidence From
Group Win Carry Over
To Knockout Round?
By MIKE MUDD
One Great Season
Before the USA-Algeria game Wednesday, I had spent the last few days of my California vacation crowing to people I thought the United States was done. I had turned into a hater of my own frickin' team.
As new soccer fans came out of the woodwork in support of our squad, I might as well have stomped on the eagle, tossed my giant Uncle Sam hat and snubbed my nose at portraits of those guys marching by with the "Don't Tread on Me" flag.
If Apollo Creed had offered me those spiffy American flag trunks, I would have said no way.
The Americans' inconsistent performances and general lack of sizzle against Slovenia and England left me uninspired and disappointed. Despite the furious comeback against Slovenia, I still didn't think this was a second-round World Cup team. And it should have been. I was predicting a tie against Algeria and, alas, a quick trip home.
But then came the sparkling play vs. Algeria, capped by a much-deserved late goal by USA's best player that helped send this country's spirits soaring with pride and the alcohol flowing all night. So now that this team has proven me wrong (gulp, I hope!), I'm more than happy to jump back on the bandwagon and believe the Americans will advance into their second-ever World Cup quarterfinal.
Here are five reasons why the U.S. should beat Ghana Saturday:
1. Renewed confidence at the right time. Maybe, after all, it was better for this team to give us so much disappointment in the first two games. It forced them to stand up to the pressure and prove they could deliver a great performance in a do-or-die situation. Getting through that successfully will help them in the knockout round here. Because, well, they've already technically won one knockout game. The dramatic win also turned out to clinch the group for the U.S., the first time it has won a World Cup group in 80 years. All this will have the side beaming with confidence that they can beat anyone.
2. Ghana's lack of goals. Ghana looks flashy on paper, led by striker Asamoah Gyan. And the Black Stars play a tough and physical defense. But look closer and you see they only scored two goals in group play and both of those were on penalty kicks. Ghana's win came over Serbia, but their loss to Germany. A win over the Serbs will not impress or intidimidate the U.S., as possibly a win over Germany would have. With the Americans' defense showing signs of collapse at times during this Cup, knowing they are not facing an offensive powerhouse could help.
3. Revenge for 2006: Ghana beat the United States 2-1 in the final group-stage game of the 2006 World Cup, propelling the Black Stars into the Round of 16 and sending the U.S. home with a last-place finish. Granted, four years is a long time to remember one loss, but this is yet another bonus nugget for the U.S. to use as motivation. And a lot of the current American players were around for that loss.
4. Steve Cherundolo's aggressive attack. One factor that helped the U.S. so much against Algeria was a more assertive presence in the midfield and attacking end. They did not let Algeria continually shove the ball down their throats, like they allowed against England and much of the game vs. Slovenia. One way this was accomplished was Cherundolo pushing up more on runs and getting an extra player into the flow of the offense. Look for this trend to continue and for there to be more chances opened up for USA's talented forwards.
5. Landon Donovan. The country's all-time best player (man, I just keep saying that, but it's true!) finally believes this is his team, his time and his chance to lead the Americans to new heights. Donovan has scored many spectacular goals in his career, but none have shaken the earth like his winning goal Wednesday and he'll feed on that. He's a mature and experienced player and will use that momentum to motivate himself and the team to the quarterfinals. I look for Donovan and his fellow attackers to be strong early, and I wouldn't be surprised if this time the U.S. scores early and can play with the lead.
Prediction: 2-1 U.S.
Click here for Mike's bio and an archive of his previous stories.