Attractive soccer required for a lasting United States World Cup run

jdill@bradenton.comJune 19, 2014 

Brazil Soccer WCup Ghana US

United States' Jozy Altidore holds his hand to his face as he lies on the pitch after pulling up injured during the group G World Cup soccer match between Ghana and the United States at the Arena das Dunas in Natal, Brazil, Monday, June 16, 2014. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

RICARDO MAZALAN — AP

It's the dream start to the Group of Death.

The United States Men's National Team defeated Ghana 2-1 in Group G action of the 2014 FIFA World Cup on Monday, which doubled as giving Uncle Sam's Army three points to sit atop the group after one match and to exact revenge on a Black Stars team that handed out defeats to the U.S. in the previous two World Cups.

The real stinging defeat was in the elimination in 2010 that allowed Ghana to reach the quarterfinals.

All that past history was erased with Monday's triumph.

But the real scary part of the Group of Death is the United States won despite not playing very well.

Maybe it was the early goal from Clint Dempsey -- just 30 seconds in -- or the hamstring injury that pulled striker Jozy Altidore off the pitch only 20 minutes into the match.

Whatever the reason was, the United States dropped into a shell, looking more like they did under former manager Bob Bradley and less like the revolutionary tactics that current manager Juergen Klinsmann promised to bring.

It was a carbon copy of the 2009 FIFA Confederation Cup upset against Spain. Get a lead, pull everyone behind the ball, then kick it long and hope the defense holds its shape.

Granted, La Furia Roja's tiki-taka possession game made everyone in the

world play a defensive, chasing style in that time, but the United States shouldn't be adopting that play this year.

Ghana controlled the match in every facet.

It didn't win, which highlights just how beautiful and cruel soccer can be at times. Outplay your opponent, yet still lose. Or get outplayed, yet still find yourself on the winning end.

Outside of Dempsey's early strike and the 86th minute game-winner from John Brooks, the many viewing parties staged around the country and abroad gave American fans little to cheer about.

If the United States wants to escape the Group of Death, it will need to play positive soccer -- attack and control the pace.

If the Americans play like they did against Ghana in their final two group stage matches, then the Stars and Stripes are asking for an early exit.

Portugal, despite the thrashing it received at the hands of Germany, is a skillful group that is dangerous in the run of play. That is especially true after the beating they took in the opener, for which they'll be hungry to atone.

There's also a major headache heading into the important Sunday match with the Portuguese: Altidore's injury.

Aron Johannsson was Altidore's replacement when the latter's hamstring forced him to retire early against Ghana.

Chris Wondolowski is the other option to start in Altidore's place.

Regardless of who it is, they'll need to acclimate themselves into the striker role quickly. Johannsson was nowhere to be found against Ghana, and his opposite skill set to Altidore (relying on technical ability over the big hold-up play attributed to Altidore's strength) couldn't find a footing in the match.

Perhaps that will change Sunday when given a start versus a spontaneous substitution in the first half.

Aiding the U.S. cause is what happened to Portugal against Germany. And we aren't talking about just the 4-0 result.

Fabio Coentrao and Pepe are both out for the U.S. match. Coentrao left the Germany match on a stretcher with a muscle strain in his right thigh and is out for the remainder of the World Cup.

Pepe was sent off against the Germans when he was issued a red card, and is suspended for the U.S. match.

Both are first-choice defenders for Portugal, and their exclusion bodes well for America and whichever striker is given the start in Altidore's absence.

Cristiano Ronaldo, one of the best players on the planet, is questionable for the game as well after leaving practice on Wednesday with issues in his balky left knee. Ronaldo has been battling injury issues throughout his latest club season, but Portugal is optimistic he will be ready to go Sunday. If Ronaldo can't hit the pitch, it would be a huge boost to the Americans.

But above all, a more pleasant style is needed if they want to advance past the group stage and make waves in the knockout round.

Jason Dill, sports reporter, can be reached at 745-7017 or via email at jdill@bradenton.com Follow him on Twitter @Jason__Dill

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