By Ridge Mahoney
First impressions from the 2014 World Cup draw as filtered through the U.S. prism:
GHANA AGAIN?The Americans will be searching for positives for being matched once again with the nation that beat the USA in the 2006 group phase and the 2010 round of 16. There aren't many. If there's an African bogey team for the USA, this is the one.
Fast, technical, and powerful, the Ghanaians in 2010 reached the quarterfinals, where they were robbed of a victory against Uruguay when Luis Suarez batted down what would have been a go-ahead goal in overtime.
World Cup 2014:Schedule
Ghana’s attacking zeal may open up counterattack opportunities for the USA but withstanding quick, tough, strong opponents for 90 minutes will be a severe test, and this squad will have many veterans of the 2006 and 2010 competitions as well as European club play.
In both tournaments, the countries met after playing at least two games. This time they meet in the opener. The Americans advanced in 1994 with a tie against Switzerland in their opener, with a defeat of Portugal in 2002, and a tie with England in 2010.
With two strong European foes looming in the second and third group games, a point is imperative. But of course, Ghana will envision the same scenario and its record against the USA gives it plenty of confidence that it can, and probably must, win.
GROUP OF EURODOOM? We need new names for a Group of Death since the 2014 draw has produced several, including that of the USA, one of the unfortunate countries matched with a pair of European powers. Germany has won the World Cup four times; Portugal and the Netherlands are the two nations with the greatest history of teams and players that have never won it.
When he took the U.S. job in 2011, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann stressed the importance of playing as many games as possible against good European teams. Albeit in friendlies, the Americans have done well; they’ve beaten Germany at home, defeated Bosnia-Herzegovina and Italy and Slovenia away, and tied Russia, 2-2, a year ago in Krasnodar. They more than make up for the 4-2 loss to Belgium in Cleveland in May.
The Portuguese weren’t well-prepared in 2002 and were caught napping by an assertive U.S. team in the opener, falling behind, 3-0, and rallying to fall short, 3-2. There won’t be any element of surprise in June. But this time, the Americans must be ready to beat a good European team, straight-up, with no chaser.
From the first day of training camp leading up to the 2002 tournament, head coach Bruce Arenatold his team every day, “We can beat Portugal.” The players came to believe it and ultimately did it. For 2014, Jurgen Klinsmann must convince his team that “We can beat anyone.”
Maybe if Germany wins its first two games and can thus top the group with a tie it keeps something in reserve against the U.S. in the last group game. Flashing back to 2002 again, in the quarterfinals the Americans battled evenly against a German team that eventually lost in the final to Brazil. In the 1-0 defeat of the USA, Torsten Frings blocked a deflected shot by Gregg Berhalterwith his arm on the goal line and a clip of that incident will be ubiquitous between now and the match June 26 in Recife.
WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN. The USA will look at Group E and see it taking Honduras’ slot against Switzerland, Ecuador and France. The first two nations were among those preferred coming out of the seeded pot (Switzerland) and Pot 2 (Ecuador). A place in Group H with Belgium, Algeria and Russia would have been gratefully accepted, with Group C (Greece, Colombia, Ivory Coast) slightly less sexy but much better than what it got.
TRAVEL TRAVAILS.The U.S. travels to the Amazon jungle to play Portugal in Manaus in between opening on the Northeastern coast against Portugal in Natal and returning to the same area to face Germany in Recife -- the shortest trip at 2 hours, 50 minutes.