TSG writer Brian Mechanick looks back at the regrettable final game for the States at World Cup 2006.
Four Years for Revenge
Four years and three days ago, the USMNT experienced perhaps its most painful loss ever. The 5th FIFA ranked USA needed a win over the 48th ranked Ghana side to clinch advancement to the knockout stage. Sadly, the U.S. fell 2-1 that day to the Black Stars, ending the World Cup early for the Yanks.
One full World Cup cycle has passed and the USA meets Ghana again, with whichever team that prevails gaining the right to advance to the quarterfinals. What’s changed in these four years, and what’s stayed the same?
• Here was your starting line-up for the Yanks that day: G: Kasey Keller; DEF: Cherundolo (Eddie Johnson 61’) Onyewu, Conrad, Bocanegra ; MID: Dempsey, Reyna (Ben Olsen 40’), Donovan, Lewis (Bobby Convey 74’); FW: Beasley, McBride
» The U.S. defense is largely the same, with Onyewu, Cherundolo, and Bocanegra all likely to start.
» The Killer D’s of Donovan and Dempsey are still likely to lead the U.S. attack through the midfield, while Beasley is a distinct possibility to feature.
• The Ghana squad has largely been rebuilt from 2006 using the 2009 U-20 World Cup winning squad, but the similarities for the Black Stars are in the back
» Goalkeeper Richard Kingson is still between the posts for Ghana. Kingson hasn’t exactly set the world on fire in these past four years, earning only four caps in his last two seasons at Wigan Athletic. Add in a goalkeeping howler against Australia this World Cup, and no change might be a bad thing for Ghana.
» The right side of the Ghanaian defense is same as it ever was, with right back John Pantsil and center-half John Mensah. Pantsil did well to make Eddie Lewis look poor while Mensah shut down the American forwards on the day.
• The managers have changed for each side, but the respective nationalities of each teams managers have stayed the same. Bruce Arena has give way to Bob Bradley for the USA, while Serbian Milovan Rajevac has replaced his countryman Ratomir Dujković.
• Tactically, the USA has changed from Arena’s preferred 4-5-1 to Bradley’s 4-4-2 (4-2-2-2) system. The change has made the USA a more positive side, but they have also lost some of the ability to hold possession of the ’06 side.
• Ghana has switched from the 4-4-2 diamond to a 4-1-4-1 or 4-2-3-1 system. Key to the change has been the loss of midfield stalwart Michael Essien, but his absence has helped change the Ghanaians into a more positive, quick-paced side.
• Kasey Keller ended his final World Cup game in forgettable fashion, giving up a no-fault goal to Haminu Dramani and a penalty to Stephen Appiah. A shame this game and his poorer game in the beating by the Czech Republic overshadow his heroic performance against Italy in this World Cup.
• Gooch was a portrait of poor luck, playing a very strong game, but was victimized on a still questionable at best penalty call that gave Ghana the lead. Gooch at his peak was a far superior player to the ’06 edition, but there have been similarities in step-slow judgment between Gooch’s two World Cups.
• Michael Bradley’s predecessor Claudio Reyna was the worst man on the pitch that day, giving up a turnover that sprung Ghana’s first goal. He injured his MCL on the same play, causing him to be subbed out. A terrible end for Captain America.
• If you want to know why Landon Donovan was in tears yesterday, look at the tape of this game. The man expected to lead the Americans was dreadful, skying chances, delivering poor free kicks, and looking a man with no confidence. His performance led TO friend of TSG Jeff Carlisle to write this condemnation: “Based on his performances in this tournament, Donovan seems incapable of being the kind of player who can take over a game at the highest level.”
• It should be remembered that this was the game that put Clint Dempsey on the international map, scoring the U.S.’s only goal of the tournament on a wonderful strike. The man was all over the pitch that day, showing an intensity and determination that would become Deuce’s trademark.
(Great goal call by the way)
• Brian McBride played a kind of game very similar to Jozy’s this tournament, using strength to hold possession and winning balls in the air. While McBride’s cabeza was a much more dangerous weapon than JZA’s, Altidore has a skill on ball that McBride never had.