This week I have been receiving a lot of, to use a polite word, “guff” about the United States National Team from militant anti-soccer people. They constantly bring up the idea that the U.S. simply needs a draw to advance in the World Cup and, because Germany can also finish first with a draw, there is a major opportunity for collusion with Jurgen Klinsmann’s old team (see, more conspiracy!) and as a result the game will be fixed and boring.
Here’s the thing – they aren’t totally wrong. If the U.S. approaches tomorrow’s match as simply going for the draw, they could be in serious trouble. Here are five reasons why:
1. Germany is not as strong as you would think. If you have not yet read Kartik Krishnaiyer’s piece on the weaknesses of the German team, I highly recommend it. In it he details where the United States can exploit Germany’s weaknesses, including with the Yanks’ speed on the flanks. Simply surrendering when they have a match-up advantage would be a poor choice by Klinsmann.
2. The difference between first and second is massive. It’s very simple – the team that finishes first in this group will play the second place finisher in Group H, which right now is Algeria but could be Russia or even South Korea. The second place finisher in Group G will face Belgium, one of the hottest teams in the World Cup and one of the most talented. Belgium happens to be the team that slaughtered the U.S. with its B squad this spring in a friendly. Finishing first sounds pretty good, right?
3. Ghana is in shambles so a loss isn’t necessarily the death of the U.S.’s chances. The stories about the Ghanaian Federation flying cash to Brazil to ensure the team plays well aren’t good. Combine that with the fact that a wounded Portugal are still dangerous, and there is a chance Ghana loses their final match. Baring a miraculous goal-scoring output from the Portuguese, the U.S. can go for the win, lose, and still advance.
4. Italy is a great example of why playing for the draw can go wrong. Undoubtedly Italy were playing for a scoreless draw yesterday and their strategy almost worked. However a controversial red card early in the second half meant all of their tactics were out the window, and once Uruguay scored, there stood almost no chance of equalizing with who they had on the pitch. Sometimes the best laid plans of escaping with a draw can be undermined by factors outside of your control, especially with some of the shaky officiating we’ve seen in this tournament.
5. We are the United States, we play to win. Pleasing your fans should be the lowest priority for a national team, but the U.S. Soccer Federation has an incredible opportunity here. The TV numbers for these matches so far are tremendous and momentum behind this team has been building. If the U.S. team “mails in” this match and plays for a lifeless draw, some of those almost-converted fans could become cynical or listen closer to the soccer-haters who would, in a sense, be justified in their hatred.