Three hours before kickoff, we still don’t have lineups for the United States or Ghana, but that can’t stop us for looked ahead to the U.S.’s opener at Brazil 2014.
Here are three areas that could prove important when the U.S. faces its World Cup nemesis at 6:00 p.m Eastern in Natal, Brazil:
1. DaMarcus Beasley will have his hands full, regardless – Early hints at Ghana’s starting XI say Asamoah Gyan, André and Jordan Ayew, and Christian Atsu are all in Kwesi Appiah’s starting XI, guaranteed left back DaMarcus Beasley, set to appear in his fourth World Cup will have his hands full. Atsu, a quick Porto product currently on Chelsea’s books, or Jordan Ayew, a more all-around attacking threat who has six seasons’ experience in the French first division, will lineup on Beasley’s flank.
A natural midfielder, Beasley, 32, has slowly entrenched himself at left back for Jurgen Klinsmann, and while he doesn’t lack any of the physical tools needed to succeed at the position (part of the reason why the conversion was attempted before), he still lacks experience. After a career playing higher up the field, the former PSV Eindhoven, Manchester City, and Glasgow Rangers player is still learning his full back’s role. At the start of the U.S.’s pre-Cup warmups, he was still competing for this job.
That doesn’t mean he’ll come up short today. That inexperience is just an obstacle to overcome, though set to face off against Atsu or Ayew, the margin for error will be small. Atsu is crafty enough to exploit of any mistake, while Ayew could be a goal-scoring threat that will challenge Beasley in the right of the box.
2. The importance of Kyle Beckerman – There’s a flip-side to Ghana starting those four attackers players (as opposed to, say, somebody like Kevin Prince-Boateng, a natural central midfielder): One of them will have to check back on Kyle Beckerman, likely to be the U.S.’s holder in midfield. None of the Ghanaian attackers are used to that job, and while the tack is not so difficult conceptually that any of them couldn’t slide into the role, any lapses will give Beckerman a chance to have more influence on the match than need be.
But this is Kyle Beckerman we’re talking about. How much influence could that be? He is a savvy but, physically, limited player. At least, he is on this level.
Did I mention this all assumes Beckerman starts? He may not. If he does, however, he could be overlooked as Ghana concentrates no the U.S.’s more renown threats, giving the regista his chance.
Left to play the normal, holding role we see the 32-year-old serve with MLS’s Real Salt Lake, he could actually provide an important outlet as Michael Bradley tries to tip the scales higher up. Instead of the U.S. having to work exclusively through their on-field general, Beckerman could help bypass Ghana’s midfield and find Clint Dempsey and Jozy Alitdore, if he’s given enough time to do so. Even if he isn’t so ambitious in his passing, an unfettered Beckerman means the U.S. is more likely to win the possession battle, something that will limit the opportunities for that talented Ghanaian attack.
Of course, we could see Beckerman play more of a mere foundational role, as he did against Nigeria, but if Bradley (when he’s not dropping back), Jermaine Jones, and the U.S.’s other midfielder (Graham Zusi or Alejandro Bedoya) can draw that attacking midfielder deeper, Beckerman could find the time he needs to make his mark. If the RSL linchpin’s allowed to be more than a mere anchor, the U.S. could get some unanticipated production out of one of its least-likely starters.
3. Quantity of chances – Against the best defenses, you want to focus on creating the best scoring chances possible. It takes something special.
Ghana, however, is not one of this tournament’s best defenses. In fact, they can be mistake probe. According to former U.S. men’s national team head coach Bob Bradley, organization can be a problem, and while Bradley failed to take advantage of that during his time with the U.S. or Egypt, the point remains. For all the talent the Ghanaians have going forward, there are some questions at the back.
Quantity of chances will be important, but whereas Jonathan Mensah can step up and snuff the isolated chance, the back four is less likely to hold up under more constant pressure. Keep asking questions, and eventually you’ll get a wrong answer.
This ties back into point two. If Beckerman’s given time at the base of midfield to pick out Dempsey or play long to Altidore, that’s more chance for the Ghanian defense to make a mistake. If the team can spray the ball wide to Fabian Johnson and Beasley, the U.S. will be able to test the organization that drew Bradley’s skepticism.
You always want to create good chances, but against a team prone to mistakes, give them a chance to screw up. The U.S. needs to force that Ghanaian back line to make some (potentially bad) choices.