Tim O’Sullivan: United States has more than faith on its side vs. Germany
It’s a mismatch. Germany is a star on the world soccer stage. The United States is a hopeful interloper, a minor character begging for more lines.
The team known as Die Mannschaft (translation: The Team) is a 4-to-1 favorite to win the World Cup, behind only host Brazil at 3-to-1. The U.S. is 80-to-1. The website transfermarket.co.uk measures player value and the German roster comes in at $777 million, the second best total among the 32 teams in Brazil. The United States ranks 26th at $85 million.
So, what chance do the Americans have today when they meet Germany at noon with a spot in the Round of 16 on the line? They have a believer’s chance. Like the chant that has become a mantra for the American Outlaws in Brazil, the U.S. fans at home and even the team itself, they believe that they will win.
Is that belief just unbridled optimism? Maybe a little. But it’s also supported by some truths. Plus, the Americans don’t have to win today to get out of this Group of Death and advance to the knockout stage. They just need a tie, or a tie between Portugal and Ghana in the group’s other noon game, or even if the U.S. does lose it could advance by winning a tiebreaker. It’s just that “I believe that we will tie or tiebreaker” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
The basis for American belief begins with knowledge. They know this German team. That understanding will help the U.S. prepare and execute, and it should temper the potential intimidation factor that comes with playing a juggernaut.
United States Coach Jurgen Klinsmann is an icon of German soccer. He scored three goals in the 1990 World Cup to help West Germany win the title. And he was the national coach for his native country in 2006 when a lesser Die Mannschaft overachieved to finish third in the World Cup.
During his stint as the German coach, Klinsmann brought an attacking, inventive and positive style of play to the team. That style is still in place in large part because the current German Coach, Joachim Low, was Klinsmann’s protege and hand-picked successor.
So Klinsmann understands how the Germans want to play and he knows how their coach thinks. Because Klinsmann has been trying to instill the same aggressive style on the American team, his U.S. players have an understanding of the German scheme. And many of them are also quite familiar with the players they’ll be facing today.
There are five German-Americans on the U.S. team – Jermaine Jones and Fabian Johnson, who have started the first two World cup game, and John Brooks, Timmy Chandler and Julian Green, who have been reserves. All of them have experience in the Bundesliga, the top German league and the place where the vast majority of the German team plays. U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley, a key figure on the American side, has also spent time in the Bundesliga.
“It’s difficult to say, but I think it definitely helps that a lot of our players know the players from the German team, because they face them in Bundesliga games,” Klinsmann said in a press conference earlier this week.
The Americans have also earned a right to believe with the way they’ve performed. They may have been unorganized against Ghana in their first game, but they still found a way to pull out a 2-1 victory. Winning when not at your best is the mark of a good team, or at least of a team infused with faith.
After getting schooled for the first 15 minutes against Portugal, the U.S. had the run of play until Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo swooped in and turned a 2-1 American lead into a 2-2 tie with less than a minute left in the game. Yes, it will be a challenge to bounce back from the letdown of letting that win slip away. No, it wasn’t a great effort from Portugal. But the U.S. can certainly take plenty of positives from the way it came back from a 1-0 hole and bossed the game against a traditional soccer power led by one of the top players on the planet.
The circumstances also add to the American belief. If this was a knockout game, the potent German offense would hit the U.S. with everything and the Americans would be even bigger underdogs. But it’s not a win-or-go-home situation for the Germans, so they won’t attack with everything.
Like the U.S., Germany only needs a tie to advance. And because it has a plus-4 goal differential (the first tiebreaker), a tie will also essentially guarantee that Die Mannschaft will win the group and face the No. 2 team coming out of Group H, a much easier task than facing Group H winner Belgium, a dark horse pick to win it all that’s become so trendy it can’t really be considered dark horse anymore.
So both teams have good reason to play cautious, defensive soccer. The Germans may even consider resting some of their top players. On that kind of playing field, the Americans can believe a little more.
There has been some speculation/fear that the two coaches, who are still close friends, would orchestrate a tie. They have both dismissed that notion, and they seem genuine about it. Besides, fixing a game would be out of character for this team of believers.
“We are very hungry, as you know, as you see,” Klinsmann said. “We are very ambitious. We did so much work, and we are almost there already to be qualified for the knockout stage. We have to do it now with this game.”