But we’ll settle for a tie
At the World Cup, a third group game that actually matters is a special moment. Spain didn’t get one in Brazil. Neither did England.
But the United States men’s national team does and, boy, is it a cracker. The Stars and Stripes versus Die Mannschaft. Fabian Johnson, Jermaine Jones, and the rest of the German-Americans against their countrymen. Jurgen Klinsmann battling his protege—and the man who, it has been suggested, was the real tactical mastermind behind his 2006 run to the semifinals—Joachim Low.
With a win or a draw, or a loss and some help (but let’s not go there), the Americans will reach the knockout stage, a feat that would rank as one of the most impressive accomplishments in U.S. Soccer history. It’s a huge game, the one we’ve all been anticipating since the draw in December. And here we sit, just hours from kick off.
“We are waiting for this game for quite a long time. It’s massive,” Klinsmann said at a press conference in the bowels of Arena Pernambuco on Wednesday. “We want to continue the way we started the tournament, in a very positive way.”
To do that, the Americans must take on an opponent that is better than them in virtually every facet of the game. This is not a slight. It is the truth. The Germans are solid and spectacular, fit and focused. Low’s squad boasts tremendous depth and fitness. He has one of the best goalkeepers in the world in Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer, and a goal-scoring phenom in Neuer’s club teammate Thomas Mueller. (Were it not for the heroics of Lionel Messi and Neymar, the world would be talking more about the scintillating play of the forward.)
Fortunately, the Germans also only need a tie to advance, leading to speculation that Klinsmann and Low would agree to a gentlemen’s draw. This is a silly narrative. It would be logistically difficult to accomplish and, more important, it’s something neither team would accept. (The American coach said that while he and Low are close friends, they haven’t been texting or calling each other in the lead up to the match.)
“I don’t think that’s in our nature,” Fabian Johnson said during Wednesday’s press conference—citing the qualifying match against Panama as proof—and I believe him. Or maybe I just want to believe him because we Americans don’t collude, even if would kind of make sense. And a planned tie is just so dull. It would be a great way to ruin what’s been a fantastic World Cup.
But more to the point, it seems that the U.S. believes it can play with anyone, including Germany.
“We feel confident,” Klinsmann said. “We did our homework. I think some people might be a little surprised by our results. We are not. We are by no means the underdog in this tournament.” (Later, he added that “this World Cup is full of surprises… we want to be one of those surprises,” which would seem to contradict his “we can beat anyone” story but whatever.)
At the very least, you have to give the U.S. a chance of getting a result in Recife. The backline, aside from admittedly major lapses, was excellent against Portugal, with Matt Besler enjoying a breakout tournament. Michael Bradley, who shouldn’t be blamed for the last-second goal due to his giveaway—though I also wouldn’t have blamed him for just kicking the ball into the Amazon—was better and actually has a higher passing percentage than Jermaine Jones across the two matches. The Americans created chances against Portugal and should be able to manage a few against Germany even without Jozy Altidore, who continues to miss out with a hamstring injury.
So go out, play the game, and see what happens. You never know at the World Cup. Remember, if South Korea’s Park Ji-sung hadn’t scored toward the end of their match against Portugal during the 2002 tournament—in a game in which a tie would have seen both teams through, no less—the Americans wouldn’t have advanced and gone on to make their quarterfinal run. The point is to play the games, right?
“It’s a World Cup and we want to get as many wins as possible,” Kyle Beckerman said.
And that is what Jurgen Klinsmann’s team will attempt to do.
But also, just this once, a tie would be fine. It would be fun to get a fourth game that mattered, too.