The U.S. men’s soccer team plays Germany, a three-time World Cup champion and a pre-tournament favorite for this year’s competition, today at noon Eastern.
How should the U.S. approach the game? It is only human nature to wonder not only about the Portugal-Ghana game–which may have ramifications on American advancement–but about all the various tiebreaker rules and qualifying scenarios as well. Should the Americans go all out for the win, or should they sit back and play conservatively knowing that a tie advances them into the next round?
Breitbart Sports alluded to the dilemma now facing the U.S. coach, Jürgen Klinsmann, after the Portugal draw: “One pick-me-up from the collapse after the comeback comes in the U.S. team’s prospects for advancement. They win, they’re in. They tie, they’re in. They lose, they still move on if their goal differential surpasses the Ghana-Portugal winner. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight.com pegs their chances of playing in the next round at 76 percent. The U.S. faces a superior German squad on Thursday at noon. But American eyes may be just as interested in the Ghana-Portugal outcome.”
Sounds like the U.S.-Germany game is going to be like watching paint dry. No way. Klinsmann will have the U.S. team ready to fight aggressively to win for the following four reasons.
Winning by not losing rarely turns out well
Holding a lead by loading up the defense can backfire as Italy found out against Uruguay on Tuesday and the U.S. learned on Sunday. In addition, Klinsmann remembers what happened the last time the U.S. and Germany played a year ago when the U.S. held a 4-1 lead with less than 12 minutes remaining. The Americans went into defensive mode and Germany scored twice in about two minutes. They almost scored several times more. He will not let this happen again.
Klinsmann and the Germans are fiery competitors
The suggestion that Klinsmann would make a deal with Germany is ridiculous. The Wall Street Journal reported: “Rumors are sure to swirl that Klinsmann could cut a deal with his good friend Joachim Löw, the head coach of Germany, since a draw will send both teams through, but Klinsmann insisted there will be no deal.” These conspiracy theorists don’t know Klinsmann or German football. I expect this relationship to have the opposite effect–for both teams to come out swinging.
Klinsmann is in this for the long-term
Expectations for the U.S. men’s soccer team are high and this is the deepest and most talented team the U.S. has ever sent to the World Cup. America has made great strides in its youth coaching and infrastructure that will only improve over the next 5-10 years. Klinsmann knows this potential and is committed to taking the U.S. team to the next level. Just as soccer is gaining credibility with a broader base of U.S. fans, getting knocked out while trying to slide in through the back door will damage this credibility and support–a bold and fearless loss will not.
Klinsmann must show confidence in his shaken team
As the New York Times highlighted, the U.S. was in “shock” after the “gut punch” when Portugal tied the game with a goal in stoppage time. Klinsmann must calm his players’ nerves with poise and reassurance. Playing not to lose will not do that.
The Americans have proven they can score after netting two goals in each of the last six games (including pre-tournament friendlies). Germany boasts a solid defense but the U.S. has the speed, athleticism, and toughness to continue this scoring streak. To win, the U.S. must play mistake-free defense deep in their area. In the last four games (two friendlies prior to the World Cup and two games in Brazil), the American team has allowed five goals. Defensive errors inside the penalty area–two fouls, one poorly cleared ball, and the Portugal striker left unmarked six yards from the goal–caused four of these goals. Germany is too good in the air on both head balls and volleys. The U.S. must challenge every head ball, make clean clearing volleys, and not commit fouls.
Forget the odds. Forget the tiebreakers. Forget the other game. U.S.-Germany is the only game that matters. And winning will be the object of that game for both teams.