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WHAT IF 2010: What if the U.S. had Beaten Ghana?

SOCCER/FUTBOL WORLD CUP 2010 OCTAVOS DE FINAL USA VS GHANA Action photo of Josmer Altidore (C) of USA and players of Ghana, during game of the 2010 World Cup held at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Rustenburg, South Africa./Foto de accion de Josmer Altidore (C) de Estados Unidos y de jugadores de Ghana, durante juego de la Copa del Mundo 2010 celebrado en el Royal Bafokeng Stadium de Rustenburg, Sudafrica. 26 June 2010 MEXSPORT/JORGE REYES Photo via Newscom

As we close the books on 2010 and go through our retrospectives (including MLS Talk’s own awards) I wanted to take a different look back on the year that was through a different lens: what if what happened didn’t happen, or vice versa.  Over the weekend I intend to take four 2010 events from American soccer and debate what would have happened if they would have turned out differently.  And the first one is a big one.

For those who don’t know, ESPN Classic has been showing World Cup games over the past few days as part of their best of 2010 series.  I had the pleasure of re-watching the Netherlands-Uruguay match last night, a game that saw incredible goals by Giovanni von Brockhorst and Diego Forlan in the first half, as well as the Orange advancing to the finals.  But to get to that point, Uruguay had to beat Ghana, who the previous round had beaten the U.S. in an overtime game that would only be surpassed by their next.  Would we have seen this Netherlands-Uruguay match-up had the U.S. beaten Ghana?

As a recap, Asamoah Gyan put Ghana ahead in the 93rd minute to beat the United States in a game that, for most of the contest, could have gone either way.  The two big U.S. failings in the World Cup (giving up the first goal and no scoring from the forwards) reared their ugly heads again in this one – Kevin-Prince Boateng netted the first goal in the fifth minute and the U.S. didn’t have a shot on target in the last fifty minutes of the match.  That’s not to say the U.S. didn’t have chances – Jozy Altidore (81st) had a great chance to put the Red-White-and-Blue ahead for good in the match, but continued his bad habit in the World Cup of pushing his shots wide.

But what if Altidore had converted late in the match?  Or if Maurice Edu would have connected on his header in the 98th minute, and the U.S. won the shootout?

While it may not have acquired the fame of the Donovan goal from the Algeria match, again all of the news broadcasts would have led with an American victory celebration in the World Cup.  If Altidore was the goal-scorer, it would have been the first goal by an American forward but, more importantly, might have given Altidore confidence that he could score in the World Cup going forward, and confidence is a powerful thing.  If it would have been Edu, we would be remembering Bob Bradley’s 31st minute substitution of Ricardo Clark for Edu as tactical brilliance, not another example of Bob Bradley’s roster mismanagement.  And Africa, the host continent, sadly would be eliminated from the World Cup a round earlier.

The United State’s next opponent would of course have been Uruguay and the U.S. would have rightfully been the underdogs.  But would beating Uruguay been outside the realm of possibility?  Consider Uruguay to that point.  They had conceded only one goal in their first four matches and were known for their defense, but their best win was against South Korea.  Their group turned out to be surprisingly easy, with Mexico their only real competition.  Their scoring ability was another matter – the U.S. would have had a hard time slowing down Suarez, Forlan, and Cavani.  But Forlan, who emerged as one of the stars of the World Cup, had seen his stock rising; he was not yet the unstoppable force.  And don’t discount Bob Bradley – after four matches he finally would have had the lineup correct and would not be making the Ricardo Clark/Robbie Findley mistakes again.  Jozy Altidore would have the confidence of a goal scorer, and the U.S. could have scored against the tough Uruguay defense.

So let’s take this a step further – what if the U.S. had beaten Uruguay?  In a sense, it may have been a better win than the Confederations Cup Spain victory, seeing as Uruguay would have been a huge match-up problem for the U.S.  But the U.S. would have advanced to the World Cup semifinals and added to the team’s mystique, gotten way more mainstream media attention, and helped soccer grow a little more in this country.  Maybe players like Altidore or Clint Dempsey would have joined Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan as the major U.S. stars in the 2010 Cup, and would have been sought after by the big-name clubs like Gyan and Boateng were.

Now let’s assume the favorites naturally advanced from this match.  This would have changed the World Cup in two big ways.  First, FIFA would have been deprived of the match of the tournament, as Ghana-Uruguay was settled in penalty kicks only after some incredible play by both sides and, of course, the Hand of Suarez play.  Speaking of Suarez, assuming he didn’t palm any American shots, he would have been eligible to face the Netherlands the next weekend.  Would having Suarez on the pitch be enough to help Uruguay beat the Netherlands?  While the Orange may have had a better starting eleven, Uruguay were playing well and adding one of their most dangerous scorers could have been enough to send the South American country to the finals.

What do you think would have happened had the U.S. beaten Ghana?

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  1. Dave C

    December 31, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    Agreed, this is pretty pointless. Being realistic, they would most likely have just lost to Uruguay. On the other hand, if we were to be totally unrealistic, then yeah sure the US might have beaten Ghana and then Uruguay, and then reach the semi-final…but in the same unrealistic universe, England might win the world cup 3-0 thanks to a hat-trick by Jamie Carragher’s gran riding into Johannesberg on the back of a flying unicorn.

    • word

      January 1, 2011 at 7:39 pm

      Germany would’ve destroyed us in the 3rd place

  2. jackie

    December 30, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    Jozy would have scored a goal? Yea Right. If he could score a more than 1 goal with Hull, then Hull would still be in PL.

    • Paul

      December 31, 2010 at 12:23 am

      I think scoring more than 1 goal would have still left Hull wanting.

      Perhaps a different thought experiment is in order. Wave a magic wand and heal all of the players for Ghana and the US. Which side would be more likely to win? Even with Essien and others healthy for Ghana, I still like the US’s chances with a healthy Holden, Davies, and Jones, not to mention full health for Gooch, DeMerit, and Boca.

      If there is one wish I had for the new year, it would be that US fans and pundits would realize how much progress this national team has made, and recogize the talent that is growing quickly in America. Jamie Trecker’s morbid, depressing tales of US soccer incompetence will only be appropriate for another half-decade; after that, perhaps he can become an ad man for the Republican party.

      • Dave C

        January 3, 2011 at 11:44 am

        I think even with all players fit on both sides, it would still be a close match-up (I think Ghana would still be slight favorites).

  3. Robert

    December 30, 2010 at 10:37 am

    The “What if game” is pointless. 2010 showed us that USA still needs a lot of development in key areas. First touch, defense, man marking and a striker who has a clean one touch and shoots the ball immediately. Jozy tried to run through the defender like a running back and 99% of the time lost the ball. To be a striker you need to have a 6th sense on where the ball is going to go and smash it in the net. The right place at the right time kind of mentality.

    I wanted to see Herc and Buddle a lot more considering they both scored goals in the warm up matches and were both in perfect form in their domestic leagues. After SA 2010 Herc lost his form and had a miserable season at Pachuca.

  4. Charles

    December 30, 2010 at 9:23 am

    Obviously I wanted to them go further, I can’t believe I didn’t win MLSTalk award for Mr. Soccer USA, but from the perspective of other implications besides my joy:

    I don’t think going to the round of 8 does much for US soccer in the future at all compared to round of 16.
    IF they could get by Uruguay to the round of 4 yes. That is a pretty big leap forward however, so you might as well have them winning it all, or losing to Spain. As well as Ghana did, those South American teams are VERY good. Like Ghana did, I think the SA teams are going to crush it on their home continent in 2014.

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