PREVIEW: USMNT - GHANA
All of the training and exhibition games will be put to the side on Monday as the United States national team finally gets its World Cup campaign started against Ghana at the Arena das Dunas in Natal.
The team arrived in the northeastern Brazilian city on Saturday to get themselves acclimated to the conditions which are much different to what they have been experiencing at their training base in Sao Paulo.
One concern ahead of the critical opener is the weather as heavy rains have battered the city since Friday, flooding streets and and forcing the evacuation of some residents in an area located 10 minutes away from the team's hotel. It is anyone's guess what the weather will be like on game day, but forecasts at present say it will be mostly sunny with a 20 percent chance of rain.
As for the United States, there has been no indication as to who will start or what formation head coach Jurgen Klinsmann will use against Ghana, but it looks certain that the team may use the same tactics that proved effective in their 2-1 pre-World Cup win against Nigeria in Jacksonville, Florida on June 7. Jozy Altidore looks to have returned to form after scoring both goals on the day and will be a threat to the Black Stars' defense.
The biggest concern will once again focus on the U.S. backline. Although the rather inexperienced group only allowed two goals in the three exhibition games, both came on penalties late in the games against Turkey and Nigeria, putting them both back within a chance of scoring equalizers. This had to be one of Klinsmann's talking points with the team as they certainly want to avoid giving away a penalty that could change the course of this game (according to stats from Major League Soccer, Ghana has been awarded a penalty 55 percent of the time in World Cup play).
While the United States closed-door exhibition game against Belgium on June 12 was canceled, they do go into the game against Ghana with some momentum and will be looking to finally break their losing skid against the African side.
Meanwhile, Ghana will come into Monday's game after a resounding 4-0 win over South Korea in Miami on June 9.
While most U.S. fans are familiar with the likes of Kevin-Prince Boateng, Asamoah Gyan and Andre Ayew, who played vital roles in the team's victory against the U.S. at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, head coach Kwesi Appiah's side has also introduced another possible threat to their already strong offense.
Jordan Ayew made his appearance in that game as a first half substitute and would go on to claim a hat-trick against the Koreans. The 22-year-old, who played for Ligue 1 side Sochaux on loan from Marseille, is fast and not afraid to take on defenders when he has the ball. This could frustrate the defenders Klinsmann selects for the game.
Expect Appiah to bring him on in the second half if Ghana needs something extra in their attack.
In their previous meetings, the United States and Ghana played tightly contested games which ended in identical score lines (2-1). The upcoming game could produce the same level of play as with the past two games, but the final result will favor the team who makes the most of their opportunities in front of the goal.
Klinsmann has said on many occasions that the United States is due for a win against Ghana. This opening game will be a critical step in whether the team will have a chance of competing for one of the two spots to qualify for the knockout stage. Anything but a victory on Monday could dent their chances of advancing out of the group.