World Cup Gut Feeling: Which XI will start for the USA vs. Ghana?
U.S. men's national team manager Jurgen Klinsmann has narrowed his World Cup roster from 30 to 23. He has cut U.S. veterans Landon Donovan, Maurice Edu and Clarence Goodson along the way. He has turned to young talents like Julian Green, DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks in their place. Now, he has another tough call ahead of him: Paring down his roster to 11 players worthy of starting against Ghana in the Americans' World Cup opener on June 16.
We paneled our SI writers and editors for their thoughts, and here's who we see starting vs. Ghana in Natal:
Personnel-wise, there aren’t any big surprises in my predicted lineup vs. Ghana for anyone who follows the U.S. closely. Fabian Johnson has played in big games for Jurgen Klinsmann before at right back, most notably against Mexico, and he’s used to the spot from playing it at club level this season. Geoff Cameron beats out Omar González for the center back spot next to Matt Besler, and DaMarcus Beasley edges out Timmy Chandler at left back.
The big question is on formation. Will Klinsmann opt for a 4-4-2 diamond, as he has in the last two U.S. friendlies? Or will he go with the 4-2-3-1 that was his most common choice during World Cup qualifying? Given Ghana’s speed, I suspect that Klinsmann will go with the 4-2-3-1 to give his team more defensive structure and allow Michael Bradley to have more distribution time on the ball than he’ll have at the tip of the diamond. - GW
Despite experimenting with a four-midfielder, two-forward formation in pre-World Cup friendlies against Mexico and Azerbaijan, Jurgen Klinsmann will revert to the more tried and tested 4-2-3-1 on June 16 when the U.S. gets its third crack at Ghana. The Americans are more accustomed to playing in that alignment under Klinsmann and Ghana is faster and more lethal in the attack then either exhibition opponent. More midfield cover will be necessary, and the 4-2-3-1 allows both Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones to support the back four.
Fabian Johnson will start on the right in order to keep tabs on Ghana's fearsome Kwadwo Asamoah, who plays for Italian champ Juventus, and Andre Ayew, who stars for Marseille. The other major change from Tuesday's Azerbaijan match is the insertion of Houston Dynamo veteran Brad Davis in left midfield. Possession may be at a premium during a match in which the U.S. must stay disciplined and that it cannot afford to lose, and Davis' ability to carve open a defense with his set piece or long ball delivery could be vital for American attacking prospects. Although Jozy Altidore has struggled in recent months, he's probably still the optimum target for Davis and Graham Zusi. - BS
Klinsmann seems intent on deploying his team in 4-4-2 alignment with a diamond midfield despite his players’ lack of familiarity with that formation. The 4-5-1 the U.S. lined up in during most of qualifying plays better to the team’s strengths, and switching now, given the gauntlet the U.S. will face in group play in Brazil, represents a major gamble.
The biggest concern with the 4-4-2 is Jermaine Jones in the No. 6 role at the base of the diamond, just in front of the back four. Kyle Beckerman, who plays the No. 6 in a diamond midfield with Real Salt Lake, is better suited for that role, and one could argue Geoff Cameron is too. But Cameron has to fill a void at center back and Klinsmann values Jones’ athleticism over Beckerman’s smarts. - GD
The biggest question mark is whether Klinsmann will stick with the diamond midfield he has played the last two friendlies, or if he will revert to the 4-2-3-1 that is much easier to play and requires less tactical discipline. I could see either one for this game, but even so, the lineup doesn't change much if at all; Dempsey would slide next to Altidore, and Bradley would likely step to the attacking midfield slot.
Klinsmann seems to like the notion of the right-footed Chandler at left back and Johnson on the right despite Chandler's weak left foot, and Zusi and Altidore have always been on his list of favorites to play whenever they're available. As for Cameron, Klinsmann has said repeatedly that he thinks his best spot is in the middle, and Omar González seems to be losing the battle for fitness and favor ahead of the fast-approaching opening match. - LB
We all love the diamond; I get it. But an attacking approach that pushes Dempsey up top and encourages Michael Bradley’s marauding is exactly the type of tactic that will yield Ghana 4, USA 0. (I’d like to think that Jurgen Klinsmann knows this too; I could be very wrong.) More likely, Klinsmann trots out the comparatively defensive-minded 4-2-3-1, with fullbacks—Timmy Chandler and Fabian Johnson—who can make long runs and join the attack from the back; and with Mix Diskerud in the role that some expect Alejandro Bedoya to play.
In a nutshell: attack-minded players in a defensive-minded setup. It’s easier, after all, to shift form midgame than to start swapping personnel. (I’m calling it: If the U.S. starts 0-2, Julian Green will slide into the Diskerud-Bedoya slot and start against his other homeland, Germany.) As for the back, Omar Gonzalez feels like a lost cause at this point; he seems to have been mentally broken and I don’t see him winning the job back from Geoff Cameron. I never understood why Cameron wasn’t an every-game start in the first place.
Another important question is which attacker would be first off the bench in the event of a late-game necessity. Aron Jóhannsson and Diskerud seem to have the upper hand at the moment, both scoring against Azerbaijan as late additions. - AD