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USMNT Preview: Looking for a Bounce-back Against Ghana

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After the weekend’s disappointing let-down against Germany, Gregg Berhalter will hope to regain some face early in his second tenure when his team faces off against regular World Cup foes Ghana in Nashville, Tennessee.

Christian Pulisic’s goal near the half-hour on Saturday night gave some hope that the Stars and Stripes were on their way to notching an impressive win against the four-times World Champions, however a trio of German goals in a space of just over 20 minutes showed that the team is still far, far away from being able to threaten the World’s best, even those mired in a spiral of temporary mediocrity.

Few things went right for the Americans over the final hour of the game, and while the players on the field must bear part of the blame, the majority of the criticism is certainly due to be heaped upon the coach.

The team managed only 40% possession and a paltry three shots on goal, a poor return on home turf even against a high-quality selection of opposing players. Put simply, the same tactical formula that has been “just good enough” against so many lesser opponents over the years was again found wanting against tougher competition.

Tuesday night will offer the chance for the team to bounce back against a lesser, albeit still quality opponent in Ghana. While they are hardly at the same level of the Black Stars teams that effectively knocked the US out of two consecutive World Cups, and came within a single dirty play of reaching the 2010 semifinal, they are still a step above the typical CONCACAF fare that still occasionally provides issues for Berhalter’s tactics.

In the four meetings between the two teams, all of which have ended with a 2-1 wcoreline, each has won twice, with the two most recent seeing the Americans coming out victorious. This included the group-stage victory in Brazil in 2014, and a friendly victory in East Hartford three years later.

Little has changed in the US squad since prior to the game against Germany, although Berhalter should be expected to carry out some rotation of key starters amidst the breakneck fall schedule of players for club and country.

Even though he was arguably the top performer for the team on Saturday, Pulisic, who has been a highly productive workhorse for AC Milan this season, could be saved as a substitute, giving Kevin Paredes, Brenden Aaronson or Alex Zendejas the chance to fill in on the wing.

Should Berhalter opt to replace the entire front three, including Folarin Balogun and Tim Weah, then two of the aforementioned options will likely be flanking Ricardo Pepi in the coach’s preferred three-man front-line.

Even though a Pepi-Balogun duo in a more classical front-two would be a highly-welcomed adjustment, most likely the only chance of seeing the two main central attacking threats on the field together will be in the case they overlap after Berhalter begins making substitutions in the second half.

Apart from Weston McKennie, who was his usual dependable self on the left side, the starting midfield of the Juventus all-rounder, Yunus Musah and Gio Reyna hardly stood out, although the latter could be forgiven considering his recent injury break and the considerable hoopla surrounding his off-field relationship with the coach.

Still, Luca de la Torre, who subbed in for Reyna at the half, was hardly better, and the other options are disturbingly unproven at the international level. This could open the door for Lennard Maloney to make his debut in the central holding role, with some combination of McKennie, Reyna, Musah, de la Torre, or even a more attack-favored option such as Aaronson or Paredes on the edges.

Similarly, the back line’s performance on Saturday was hardly anything to brag about, even if the issues in the midfield left them a bit overrun and on the back-foot more often than preferred. Berhalter has room for a full rotation of players, for example starting Miles Robinson and Cameron Carter-Vickers in place of Tim Ream and Chris Richards.

Ghana, sitting at #60 in the latest FIFA rankings, opened their US tour with a 2-0 loss against Mexico in Charlotte on Saturday. Prior to this window, they had a strong run to win Group E in the final qualifying round for the upcoming 2023 African Cup of Nations, which will, contrary to its official name, be played in early-2024 in Ivory Coast.

They evenly split their six games between three wins and three draws to finish ahead of Angola, and have had a relatively decent run of form since being knocked out of last year’s World Cup at the group stage.

The only holdover from the last competitive meeting with the US nearly 10 years ago in Brazil is forward Jordan Ayew, who currently plays with the American defender Richards at Crystal Palace.

Arsenal midfielder Thomas Partey, who began his national team tenture in 2016, will be a formidable hindrance to any attacks from the Americans coming through the middle, although in general, the midfield is severely lacking in experience. West Ham attacker Mohammed Kudus is the only other midfielder apart from Partey to have more than 20 caps, which should play in the hosts’ favor.

Ghana’s head coach Chris Hughton, who himself has Ghanaian roots through his father, had been a longtime fixture on the sidelines for a number of English teams before taking the reigns of the Black Stars in February. His first six games in charge have included three wins, with the only loss being the most recent game against Mexico.

The game will kick off at 8:30pm Eastern time in Nashville’s GEODIS Park.

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David Smith

I'm YA's resident doctor, but not the kind of doctor you would want giving you an examination anywhere outside of a lecture hall. I've been YA's feet-on-the-ground in Germany since 2008, have an affinity for overly verbose descriptions of irrelevant minutiae, keep an eye on YAs in most of the destinations on mainland Europe, and watch a whole lot of Serie A.

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