United States national team winger Julian Green was in Germany when the Americans played and lost their final game of 2006 World Cup against Ghana. He was 11 years old and playing youth soccer with the SG Hausham club in Southern Bavaria.
Defender DeAndre Yedlin was approaching his 17th birthday, playing with a Seattle-area youth club called Crossfire Premier, when the U.S. lost an extra-time game against Ghana in the 2010 World Cup round of 16, knocking the Americans from the natural high engendered by Landon Donovanâ€™s monumental goal just a few days earlier.
You can see what weâ€™re getting at here: The opponent is the same, but so very much has changed. Itâ€™s essentially a statistical quirk that the United States is opening the 2014 World Cup against the team that was its final opponent in the previous two, against the team that twice â€œeliminatedâ€ the U.S., but this happenstance is being widely presented as an important element of what must be overcome.
Among the U.S. players, goalkeeper Tim Howard said, â€œnot a word has been spokenâ€ in regards to the two Ghana defeats. â€œWeâ€™ve said that all along. That was four years ago. Itâ€™s ancient history, really, the way football is looked at. This a different team with a different mindset.â€
Of the 11 players likely to start for the United States on Monday evening in Natal, only four played a role in the 2-1 loss to Ghana in 2010: Howard, midfielder Michael Bradley and forwards Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey.
Only two played in the 2-1 group-stage loss in 2010: Dempsey, who scored a goal that temporarily tied it, and DaMarcus Beasley. Ben Olsen, who came on for an injured Claudio Reyna in the first half, has been coaching D.C. United of Major League Soccer for four seasons now.
Making the point that those past two results somehow impact these would be the same as declaring a 2015 Super Bowl between San Francisco and San Diego would be a likely blowout because of that 49-26 debacle 20 years earlier.
And suggesting that Ghana somehow â€œownsâ€ the U.S. overlooks that both games were evenly played, the first turning on a questionable penalty called against defender Oguchi Onyewu and the second requiring more than 90 minutes to produce a winner.
â€œThis team, weâ€™re in a good position to face Ghana,â€ Howard said. â€œThereâ€™s no revenge factor. We donâ€™t feel that. Thatâ€™s not motivating us. Theyâ€™re a good team, but we feel like weâ€™re slightly better as well. Weâ€™re younger, more athletic. The way we pressed teams, particularly late on in qualifying, was really, really good. I think we can cause some trouble in that regard, but weâ€™ll see.â€
The United States has arrived at this World Cup dramatically changed in a number of ways, with a young bench featuring Green, Yedlin and center back John Anthony Brooks, a completely revamped back line with World Cup newcomers Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron at the center and an infusion of German-born talent from the coaching staff (Jurgen Klinsmann, adviser Berti Vogts and goalkeeper coach Andreas Herzog, an Austrian who played the heart of his pro career in Germany) to the starting lineup (midfielder Jermaine Jones and right back Fabian Johnson) to the reserves (Green, Brooks and outside back Timmy Chandler).
Oh, and no Landon Donovan, in case you havenâ€™t heard.
Indeed, Ghana still features Assamoah Gyan, the forward who split U.S. center backs Jay DeMerit and Carlos Bocanegra to score the blistering game-winner past Howard in 2010. Midfielder Michael Essien is still an important player, though heâ€™s now 31, eight years older than when he arrived in Germany as a bright young star of Chelseaâ€™s Premier League champions and a nominee for FIFA World Player of the Year.
U.S. midfielder Graham Zusi, asked how the U.S. can handle Ghanaâ€™s talent, answered that clues could be found in the Americansâ€™ 2-1 victory last Saturday over African champion Nigeria.
â€œTheyâ€™re similar teams. I think that we can, through our good defensive work, we can catch them on counters,â€ Zusi said. â€œOur fitness level, as well, late in the game will prove vital like it did in Jacksonville. And just being very disciplined. Theyâ€™re a very talented team, and I think that defensive shape is very big for us.â€
Zusi understands the fuss made about the U.S. playing Ghana once again. He is a young American who grew up in the age of ESPN and Internet journalism.
â€œItâ€™s obviously a good story line,â€ Zusi said. â€œBut for us, weâ€™re focused on this year, the here and now. Itâ€™s a different year and weâ€™re going to do to the best we can to get a good result.â€
Source: Sporting News