[BRAZIL 2014]There are a lot of lessons to be learned from the first four days of the World Cup. You better count on getting a couple of goals if you want to get a result. And that means attacking out of the back and in numbers. And for 90 minutes. With that in mind, here are three keys for the USA if Christmas is to come early in Natal, where it faces Ghana Monday night.
1. FabJo's flank play. Jurgen Klinsmann recently said Fabian Johnsonwas one of the best fullbacks not only in the Bundesliga, but also in Europe. And that was before FabJo had two very good games against Turkey and Nigeria in the U.S. send-off series.
The likes of the Netherlands' Daley Blind, 24, and Ivory Coast's Serge Aurierand Switzerland's Ricardo Rodriguez, both 21, have set a very high standard for outside backs at the World Cups -- each had two assists in their opening games -- but if the USA is to beat Ghana, it has to get a big game out of Johnson. And that's for no other reason than it has no other attacking options from the back.
Johnson is not a traditional outside back in terms of racing down the wing and sending in crosses. His goal against Turkey followed a one-two with Michael Bradley and his assist against Nigeria came after he drifted inside to take a pass from Alejandro Bedoya.
2. Numbers in the box. The first four days at the World Cup has shown that teams are rewarded for getting numbers in the penalty area. One can think of Colombia's first goal by Pablo Armero against Greece Saturday and the Swiss winner by Haris Seferovic on Sunday.
One does not think of the USA as a team overwhelming its opposition with numbers -- an exception would be on Jozy Altidore's opening goal against Nigeria -- but it will have to find a way to push forward with more than Altidore, Bradley and Clint Dempsey in attack if it is to get goals.
And on the other end, the Black Stars will present the ultimate test of the USA's fragile backline. If they get players in numbers to support Asamoah Gyan and Andre Ayew in the run of play in the penalty area, it could be a long night for the USA.
Who wilts first. Much has been made of the early goals at the World Cup -- 10 of the 11 games have produced goals in the first half, five in the first 16 minutes -- but more amazing have been the second-half comebacks -- five teams have now won after conceding the first goal.
The USA knows all about early goals and comebacks at the World Cup. In 2010, it gave up goals in the 4th, 5th and 13th minutes and came back in each game -- to tie England (1-1) and Slovenia (2-2 after going 2-0 down) and eventually lose to Ghana in overtime (2-1). The conditions, however, will be decidedly more difficult in Brazil -- where all three U.S. games are in the Northeast or Amazon -- than they were four years ago in South Africa.
Klinsmann says the weather won't work against the USA, which is used to extreme conditions in Concacaf. "We’ll take the weather the way it is," he said Sunday. "In our environment, going through Concacaf, you don’t complain. You go into the different countries and make the best out of it. Sometimes you need those lessons to improve as well.”
Klinsmann has made, though, a big deal out of the fitness of his players, and we'll see at the hour mark on Monday how they are doing. That's about when games like Netherlands-Spain and Costa Rica-Uruguay turned decisively, so just how the USA's thirtysomethings on the defensive end -- Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman and DaMarcus Beasley -- are holding up will be an indicator of who's going to take the control of the game in the final 30 minutes.