RECIFE, Brazil — It’s do or … tie … or lose with better goal differential … or something for the United States on Thursday when it takes on Germany with a bid to the second round of the World Cup on the line. A win or a tie sends the U.S. on, and a loss could potentially as well if the right scenario plays out.
But why fret over hypotheticals? Here are five tangible things you should be looking for when the U.S. plays Germany.
1. Will Michael Bradley ever come back?
Listen, we know the guy next you in the gym thinks Michael Bradley cost the U.S. a win against Portugal and that the center midfielder has had a terrible World Cup.
It’s not quite that simple. Bradley has not played up to usual Bradley standards during this World Cup, which creates the perception that he’s struggled. In reality, Bradley has been relatively average.
Being relatively average was good enough to beat Ghana and draw with Portugal. It won’t be enough to get points from Germany. Bradley is capable of much more, the question is if he will realize it in time.
2. Can the defense hold?
The U.S. managed to bottle up Cristiano Ronaldo for 94 minutes last Sunday. On Thursday, the backline will have to reckon with one of the most talented and diverse attacks in the World Cup. It will be a far more robust challenge for the U.S. when Germany throws Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller, Lukas Podolski, Mario Gotze, and Miroslav Klose at an American defense which struggled at times against Portugal.
3. How will the German-Americans play?
There hasn’t been a more consistent player for the U.S. this World Cup than Jermaine Jones. Jones played for Germany up until 2010, playing for the Under-21 national team, and three friendlies for the senior team in 2008. When German coach Joachim Loew cut Jones from Germany’s 2008 Euro Cup roster, the German-American player switched allegiances to the U.S.
Jones is one of five German-Americans on the U.S. roster; Fabian Johnson, John Brooks, Timmy Chandler, and Julian Green are the other four.
“I can’t say bad stuff about Germany. I have a lot of friends and everything is good and everything happens for a reason. So, I play for the United States and I’m happy to play in this World Cup,” Jones said.
Though Jones claims no bad blood, there isn’t a doubt that there is something to prove for the central midfielder and his counterparts. Klinsmann will do his best to keep all of his players, regardless of background, attentive on the task at hand.
“No matter what background we have, we have one focus,” Klinsmann said. “None of the German-American players think so much about it … I want the players to come in tomorrow and give every thing they have.”
4. Will there be any offense?
Both teams just need a point to get out of the group, so the conventional wisdom would be to play for a draw and get through. However, the U.S. appears incapable of playing for a draw this tournament. The team tried desperately to sit back and defend Ghana in its first match, and ended up conceding 21 shots in the match. Offer 21 shots to Germany and you can expect to concede more than a single goal.
The tie against Portugal came as a result of poor defending, not calculated tactics. The U.S. is built to attack, and sitting defensively goes against its nature.
“We are not made for going into a game to end with a tie, that’s just not in our DNA,” Klinsmann said.
5. If the U.S. doesn’t win or draw, what’s the best case scenario?
It’s complicated. I’ll let For the Win’s Nate Scott explain it to you …
If the U.S. loses to Germany, then it would all depend on what happened in the Ghana-Portugal game. The U.S. will be hoping that Portugal and Ghana tie, which would result in the U.S. advancing no matter what.
If the U.S. loses and there is a winner in the Portugal-Ghana game, the Americans would have to rely on goal difference. As of right now, the U.S. have a +1 goal difference, two better than Ghana’s -1 and five better than Portugal’s -4. In that case, the U.S. would hope Portugal beats Ghana by a small margin, with the Americans not giving up too many goals to Germany.