The Yanks of the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) enter their final group stage match needing only a draw to progress. The problem? We’re facing three-time World Cup champions Germany, the second-ranked national side in the world, against whom we’ve never drawn (W3, L6). Still, the Americans have already surpassed expectations by beating Ghana and drawing Portugal, we now count several truly top-level players among our stars, and we beat Germany 4-3 the last time we played them. Let’s do this thing.
What’s At Stake
The table above shows the current standings in Group G. Three points for a win, one for a draw, and two teams will progress to the knockout stage. The USMNT’s last-minute draw with Portugal means all four sides are still alive, with limitations: only Germany or the USA can win the group (avoiding Belgium in the next round), and one of Portugal or Ghana must go home.
For the USA to win the group, we have to beat Germany. Any other outcome and the Germans win the group. A draw for the USA puts both Germany and the Yanks through, with the Europeans in top spot.
Germany’s +4 goal difference means they would probably survive a loss. The USA could also potentially lose and progress if Ghana and Portugal draw or in the scenarios illustrated here.
Jürgen Klinsmann and Joachim Löw know each other well and know each other’s teams well. The tactical matchup should be interesting today. Both teams have used surprise variations of their tried and tested formations in this World Cup – Germany for tactical reasons, the USA because of Jozy Altidore’s injury.
Germany have been devoted to 4-2-3-1 in recent years, but they’ve played 4-1-2-3 this tournament, with captain Philipp Lahm in the deep midfield role he has played at Bayern Munich this season. Having Lahm passing out from deep theoretically allows the band of two ahead of him (recently Sami Khedira and Toni Kroos, today Kroos and Bastian Schweinsteiger) to perform their workmanlike duties higher up the pitch, closing down opponents’ central and defensive midfielders and pulling defenders away from Germany’s front three. However, it also requires that front three to interchange extremely well to make up for the absence of a fourth natural attacker.
Germany’s switch hasn’t worked very well, despite their flattering 4-0 demolition of an off-color Portugal. The second match against Ghana displayed their weakness against width; shielding the defense with only Lahm, instead of both Khedira and Kroos, essentially means not supporting the outside backs with midfielders. If I were Joachim Löw, I’d return to 4-2-3-1 for this match, move Lahm to his more familiar left back position in place of the struggling Benedikt Höwedes, bring on an extra attacker (Podolski or Schürrle), and drop Schweinsteiger and Kroos back into a two-man deep midfield patrol. That won’t happen, though. 4-1-2-3 and a chance for the USA to work the flanks.
The USA have options, too. We played a 4-4-2 diamond in qualifying and stuck to it against Ghana, with Kyle Beckerman at the base of the diamond, Jermaine Jones (left) and Alejandro Bedoya (right) on the sides, and Michael “Madly” Bradley at the tip. But the loss of Altidore meant we switched to 4-2-3-1 for Portugal, with Jones and Beckerman shielding the defense and Madly just ahead of them, playing balls wide to wingers Bedoya and Graham Zusi.
I hope we retain the latter shape. We’re still missing Jozy, of course, but we look more comfortable in 4-2-3-1, anyway. It gives our fullbacks the chance to get forward in the knowledge they’ll be covered by Jones or Beckerman (unlike the German fullbacks, who only have Lahm covering in 4-1-2-3). Having two defensive midfielders also allows our wingers to make the runs Bradley loves hitting balls to over the top of the defense; Zusi and Bedoya were often farther forward than striker Clint Dempsey. Finally, it puts two defensive midfielders in the central zone where dangerous German playmaker Mesut Özil likes to operate.
Today, it’ll probably be Brad Davis on the left and Zusi on the right, while Geoff Cameron, largely responsible for both Portugal goals Sunday, will come out for University of Maryland product and LA Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez.
Players to Watch
USA: Madly Bradley. He’s a truly world-class player, and his contribution to the team is still underrated. He plays long through balls as well as any player in the world. If he gets space, he’ll try to find balls into the zones behind Germany’s shaky fullbacks.
Germany: Mesut Özil. He’s had a quiet World Cup, but his impact on the game is always greater than it seems. Watch how his movement interacts with that of his attacking partners as they try to bamboozle the American defenders.
Ian Darke and Taylor Twellman. They were great together for the last match. Taylor’s pink pocket squares are always a highlight.
Match-specific Drinking Games
Searching: Have a sip whenever Michael Bradley plays a ball over the defense toward a streaking American player. How drunk? Happily woozy.
‘Murrica: Drink whenever the camera focuses on a shirtless American in the stands. How drunk? Not as drunk as you’d be if you were in Recife!
Predictable: Take a shot if the USA haven’t scored by halftime. Bonus shot if we score two goals total today. How drunk? The Yanks certainly have a history here: seven of our last eight World Cup goals have come in the second half, and we’ve scored exactly two goals in six straight games.
USA: Bourbon. I drank it the first match and we won. Forgot until the second half against Portugal and we drew. Let’s all do our duty today.
Germany: Lager. I wouldn’t be surprised if Germany set the record today for most beer drunk in one country in one evening.
– Read my general World Cup watching guide.
– Check out Zonal Marking, my favorite tactics website.
– See a commentary schedule or a review of each commentator.
– See where I’m getting my national drink recommendations.
– Check out other match previews from this group: USA vs. Portugal, Germany vs. Ghana, Ghana vs. USA, Germany vs. Portugal
Picture credit: badische-zeitung.de