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USMNT: Looking Ahead to the Round of 16

Personally, I’m sick of all of the “doom-and-gloom” commentary regarding the U.S. Men’s National team in the upcoming edition of the World Cup. It seems that even Americans have no confidence in Jurgen Klinsmann and his men to see off the tasks of Ghana and Portugal, let alone get any points against Germany. The fact of the matter is that this group, recently displaced as the “Group of Death” by Group D, features opponents who could each win their match on any given day; any “Group of Death” has have some level of doubt as to who will come out with positive results and make the knockout phase of the tournament. I’ve always been bullish on American chances, so instead of joining the drumbeat of American doom, let’s look at who potential American opponents could be should they make it out of Group G and into the Round of 16.

Whether the United States tops the group or finishes second they will face one of the winners of Group H, featuring Algeria, Belgium, Korea Republic, and Russia. Each potential opponent has its nuances, but the United States would do well to take on an aggressive stance throughout the World Cup games. The diamond midfield that Klinsmann has been trying to implement over the past several months is both versatile and aggressive when properly executed; this has become more and more the case with the past several matches the United States has played and, upon successful advancement from the group, will have overcome many of the experience and chemistry issues that soccer commentators are quick to decry.

Let’s not forget that the United States is part of the Group of Death and not just a passive participant. Among the reasons for this is the astronomical level of conditioning that American athletes have across the board, especially after Klinsmann’s rigorous camp and training processes. A full 90 minutes of soccer is exhausting, even for the best of the best; it will be difficult for the likes of Ghana to match the United States’ intensity in the final 15 minutes, let alone for Korea Republic and Algeria should a match go to extra time. I do no intend that as a slight the conditioning and athleticism of the other squads, but rather as a testament to the United States’ focus on playing the full match down to the wire. Let us not forget the United States come-from behind win against Panama in stoppage time last fall for proof.

The United States’ likeliest opponent would be a top-of-the-group Belgium, who will present a peculiar challenge. The Belgians are a dark horse contender in my World Cup bracket this year, and it is more likely than not that they make a run in the knockout-phase of the tournament. Their attack should the biggest cause of concern for Klinsmann and, should and defensive weaknesses exist beyond the group stage, will require that the United States be relentless on the counter attack. It may behoove Klinsmann to mix up the midfield, bringing in the likes of Mix Diskerud and Julian Green in the second half for fresh legs with some creativity.

Ultimately, I believe a run to the quarterfinals is not at all impossible or unlikely. Even winning the group is not impossible on goal differential if the United States posts wins against Ghana and Portugal. I’m not saying the United States will break new ground and win, but things aren’t as bad for the Americans as commentators would like to make it seem. The United States national team will never truly surprise me by exceeding expectations–only by underachieving. I’m optimistic that the United States will make waves.


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