Category: World Cup

The Stain’s 2022 World Cup Predictions

There are a lot of bracket’s out there to predict what will happen in this World Cup, we at The Stain used Bovada’s bracket as it was the cleanest and quickest fillable bracket we found this year. So, here are Torsten and Shaun’s predictions as to how the World Cup will play out!

Picking the Ideal USMNT 26-man Roster

Picking the Ideal USMNT 26-man Roster

The United States Mens’ National Team roster for the World Cup will be revealed on November 9th, so instead of purely complaining about Gregg Berhalter’s roster decisions after the fact, I will put out my ideal 26-man roster ahead of time. This is not in any way a prediction, as we all know Tim Ream won’t make the roster despite being the captain of a team in the middle of the Premier League table, and this roster doesn’t include any of GGG’s inexplicable infatuation with Cristian Roldan, Paul Arriola, and Aaron Long. So, who do I have on the roster? Let’s start with my starting 11, and I will keep to the current USA formation of 4-3-3.

Attack:

ST: Ricardo Pepi, Groningen

LW:  Christian Pulisic, Chelsea

RW: Giovanni Reyna, Borussia Dortmund

Pulisic is the best player the USMNT has, while Reyna might be the single most talented player to ever put on the United States kit, but injuries have already been a real concern and he won’t even turn 20 until after the rooster announcement. At the top of the attack I put in Ricardo Pepi as the winner of the position most up in the air for me, more on that later. 

Midfield:

LCM: Weston McKennie, Juventus

RCM: Yunus Musah, Valencia

CDM: Tyler Adams, Leeds United

McKennie recently went down with a thigh injury but, by all reports, is expected to be 100% come November 21 when the USA take on Wales. Musah oozes talent but has been a bit inconsistent with Valencia and has yet to really show his talents translate to the USMNT, but I still have faith. There is no single player more irreplaceable to this squad than Tyler Adams as there simply is nobody in the system that does what he does. He isn’t the best player on the squad, but absolutely the most irreplaceable. 

Defense:

LB: Antonee Robinson, Fulham

LCB: Tim Ream, Fulham

RCB: Walker Zimmerman, Nashville SC

RB: Sergiño Dest, AC Milan

Jedi is the guy left back, and he would be a top LB at an elite club if he could simply cross better. His runs from the the back are deadly, they just all seem to die on his crosses at the end. Despite that, he puts pressure on the opposing defense while defending well himself. Yes, Ream is 35 and hasn’t put on the stars and stripes in more than a year, but he wears the armband for Fulham, and does so standing next to Jedi meaning no player has more chemistry and can predict the runs better than he. Zimmerman has been a steady contributor even if his last couple appearances for the national team were a bit underwhelming. Dest has bounced around after plenty of transfer speculation away from FC Barcelona this summer, he landed a loan deal to Milan, where he has barely seen time. That said, he is the best offensive wing back and is a no-brainer to get the start. 

GK: Matt Turner, Arsenal

There has long been plenty of back and forth as to who deserves the #1 for GGG, but that seems to have been put to rest with Turner now playing for Arsenal and looking solid there. He seems to be the clear cut man at keeper for this squad. That said, he has been out the past two matches, a return Thursday would be a very good sign.

There are going to be 15 available substitutes this year, so here are my backups who should be on the roster and what position(s) they can play. 

Attack:

LW/RW: Brenden Aaronson, Leeds United

RW: Timothy Weah, Lille

ST: Jesus Ferreira, FC Dallas

ST: Jordan Pefok Siebatcheu, Union Berlin

Aaronson is a guy I have a love/hate relationship with as I absolutely love his motor, but he feels so unpolished. There is growing sentiment for him to be a starter, but his energy, off the bench, in a climate like Qatar, that could be a genuine game changer. Weah is another guy who one could easily argue to start, and I wouldn’t be against it if Reyna moves back to midfield in place of Musah and Weah gets the start up top, but I can’t trust Reyna to go 90 in every match for an entire tournament. Having Weah available as a sub will be massive. Ferreira will likely be the 9 for this squad, but he plays more like a 10, and you can’t 0-0 draw your way into the knockout round, so I like him better off the bench, especially if the USA has a lead. Pefok has the second most combination of goals and assists on the team currently atop the Bundesliga, need I say more?

Midfield:

CM: Luca de la Torre, Celta Vigo

CM: Malik Tillman, Rangers

CM/LW/RW: Djordje Mihailovic, CF Montreal

CDM: Kellyn Acosta, LAFC

There is some availability concern for LDLT as it was announced he has a muscle tear and is out three weeks, that was 25 days before the Wales match, but I am choosing to be optimistic. If you want to feel good about what Tillman can bring, watch him weave through the Motherwell defense. If you don’t want to feel good about him, go watch all his UCL appearances outside of the one against Napoli. Mihailovic will be heading to AZ come January 1, and he is not in the MLS camp which means he will not be on the club, but he had the best MLS season of any American not named Brandon Vasquez. Accosta is probably the single best free kick taker on the squad, so he is an excellent option as a late sub with a lead as he is defensive focused in midfield, but also in need of a goal as he seems to be the only player capable of getting good ball into the box on a set piece. 

Defense:

LB/RB: Joe Scally, Borussia Monchengladbach

RB: DeAndre Yedlin, Inter Miami

RB/CB: Reggie Cannon, Boavista

CB: Cameron Carter-Vickers, Celtic

CB: Chris Richards, Crystal Palace

Scally might be the second best overall wing back, better than Jedi, but he can play both the left and right so he is an easy option to be one of the primary subs in this tournament. Yedlin will likely be the only player to make GGG’s final roster with any World Cup experience and technically would be here too, although Ream was on the roster in 2014, he did not get on the pitch at any point. Bringing that experience is huge, plus he has as feisty an approach as anyone, which certainly has its place. Cannon has looked good for Boavista, and has even seen minimal time at center back, so he brings versatility to the back line the squad really lacks. CCV and Chris Richards are both guys who have looked solid and could easily be the starting CB duo in a position group that is as interchangeable as there is outside of the 9 on this roster. Richards is still a week or so away from training, so he is yet another player with injury concerns as the roster deadline approaches.

Goalkeeper:

Ethan Horvath, Luton Town

Zack Steffen, Middlesbrough

Horvath has six clean sheets in the Championship while Steffen has been busy in goal with a questionable defense in front of him in Middlesbrough. Steffen was once the answer as the future GK for the club, but he very well may be number three at the end of the month. 

This is a roster I don’t think struggles to get out of the group and, depending on draw, could get a win or two in the knockout round. It is also a team who has struggled to but the ball in the back of the net, so that 0-0 draw through the group mentioned earlier is also within the realm of possibilities and missing the knockout round is possible. Overall, the expectation is getting out of the group, with winning the group the likely target and, frankly, I wouldn’t be satisfied without a trip to the quarterfinals.

The USMNT Has a Goalie Problem

Over the last three decades, the United States mens team has cycled through various weaknesses that have kept it on the outside looking in at the world’s elite programs. But goalie has always been a strength. The steady hands of fellas like Casey Keller, Brad Friedl, Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, and even the few cameos made by MLS stalwarts like Nick Rimando always gave the team at least a fighting chance to hang with the powerhouses.

And now, with more and more players making the leap to, and playing significant minutes in Europe, the U.S. is in theory supposed to have its best crop of goalkeepers yet. The reality, however, is that they don’t. Even though Zack Steffen and Matt Turner are on the books at two of England’s biggest clubs, they have given fans, let alone coach Greg Berhalter, no reason for confidence. Third choice and Gold Cup hero Ethan Horvath would seem to be an option, but he can’t unseat Brice Samba at Nottingham Forest. The youth ranks include highly rated Gaga Slonina, but Poland came calling and he may very soon no longer be an option.

Oddest of all, this is rapidly becoming a five alarm fire, and nobody is talking about it. They really need to be.

Let’s start with Steffen. In his most recent high profile game, he dilly dallied in possession, allowing Sadio Mane to disposess him directly into the net, essentially sealing Manchester City’s FA Cup semifinal defeat. Now, everyone is human and even the world’s finest keepers like Jan Oblak and Thibault Courtois have had moments they’d rather forget. But it’s becoming a pattern with Steffen in big games. In last year’s FA Cup he horribly misjudged a through ball, allowing Chelsea’s Timo Werner and Hakim Zayech to combine for an easy winning goal. In the World Cup qualifying loss to Costa Rica, in which the U.S. sealed their ticket to Qatar anyway, he was caught on his heels with his hands at his sides on Juan Pablo Vargas’ well-taken header to open the scoring. While it would have taken a solid save to keep the ball out of the net, a goalie has to at least be in position to try, which Steffen wasn’t. The sting was worsened by Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas making a string of excellent reaction saves to keep the game scoreless up to that point.

The U.S. was still controlling possession and had the lion’s share of the attacking chances but the game was then put out of reach after another Steffen error, this one a brutal blunder in which he failed to hang on to a harmless cross, leading to a scramble and an ultimately easy tap in for Costa Rica to double their lead.

If Matt Turner has been better, it’s only by a slim margin. When the U.S. traveled to Canada in World Cup qualifying, a match they should have had designs on winning considering the absence of the world class Alphonso Davies, it was Turner who failed to get set on Cyle Larin’s opening goal. While Larin’s shot was well-hit, the replay showed Turner would get his fingertips on the ball despite not being able to muster any kind of a dive. An awful error? No, but once again, the pain was made worse later on in the game when Canada’s Milan Borjan produced a beautiful one-handed parry of Weston McKennie’s goalbound header to preserve Canada’s lead. Lev Yashin himself could have done nothing to prevent Canada’s stoppage time 2-0 strike, but it was nearly academic anyway as a few minutes earlier, Turner nearly gifted a goal to the Canadians by fumbling a completely harmless shot right into the path of an oncoming striker, who somehow contrived to smash the ball right back into Turner.

The U.S. is getting better, no doubt. But if they want to progress farther than they ever have come Qatar, they will need their goalkeeping to steal them a game, as Tim Howard so nearly did against Belgium in 2014, but for Chris Wondolowski to blast over when scoring seemed easier. Right now, their goalkeeping looks more likely to lose them a game than win them one.

There isn’t an easy solution. There’s no explanation why Horvath hasn’t gotten a shot at it. Chituru Odunze and the aforementioned Slonina may very well be too young for the big stage. It’s possible an MLS veteran like Sean Johnson or Bill Hamid could step up, but neither looks great so far this season.

One thing there is as a silver lining is time. The games don’t start tomorrow. Someone can step to the forefront and stand out. But step one is for Berhalter and company to admit there’s a problem. And they haven’t, and likely won’t.

Got a solution we haven’t thought of? Let us know in the comments. Thanks for reading.

First Reactions to USA’s World Cup Draw

The World Cup draw is officially behind us, the United States is in the World Cup after missing out four years ago, so how did the USA do in terms of the draw?

There was some hope the USA would be drawn in group G or H so they could open their run on Thanksgiving Day, but they land in Group B, which is the second best schedule hopes as they will begin their run on the first day of the World Cup and get game two on a day most Americans will have off, the day after Thanksgiving.

One tough part of the draw is landing with the European Playoff, so the final member of the group won’t be decided until June.

That first match on Monday, November 21 will be against one of Wales, Scotland, and Ukraine. The most favorable matchup of the group is Scotland, Wales is the best team with the best player in Gareth Bale, but Ukraine could be an interesting opponent as the world (sans-Russia) will be pulling for them given what the country is going through. Realistically, this should be three points for the USA, although a matchup with Wales and Gareth Bale could be problematic.

Match two will be Friday, November 25th against arguably the biggest rival outside of CONCACAF the USA has, England. The last time they faced each other in the World Cup English keeper Robert Green botched a save on an easy shot from Clint Dempsey and the match ended level 1-1. This has all the makings for an incredible watch, as England will certainly be favored, but are by no means a lock to beat the USA. The hope in this match would be for the Americans to lock in a point, but three points are possible as is zero. This will likely be the match that determines the group winner.

The final match of the group stage may be the most favorable matchup in Iran, although history isn’t favorable. The USA and Iran have only faced off twice before, drawing a friendly in 2000 and losing 2-1 in the 1998 World Cup. That said, the best player on Iran is arguably Sardar Azmoun, the forward who recently moved to Bayern Leverkusen. Azmoun has scored 40 goals in 62 appearances for his country and scored 52 goals in 79 matches for Zenit Saint Petersburg. He will be the main focus, but three points for the USA is a must in this matchup.

Assuming USA get through the group stage, being in Group B is a big benefit, as the first knockout round is against Group A, possibly the weakest group in the 2022 World Cup. Qatar and Ecuador will open the World Cup, but neither are truly expected to get out of the group. Therefore the knockout round matchup will most likely be against Senegal or the Netherlands depending on seeding.

Winning Group B is not the most likely outcome, runners-up is most likely, but winning the group could be huge for the USA. Chances are Netherlands wins Group A, a matchup the USA would like to avoid as Senegal would be the preferred matchup. Yes, Sadio Mane can single-handedly end anyone’s run in December, but the rest of the roster simply doesn’t have the depth of Netherlands.

The expectations on USA should be high given the draw. Not getting out of the group stage will be seen as absolute failure by the club. From there any success in the knockout stages will be positive, although a loss in the first knockout game won’t be a negative for the club. That said, a trip to the quarterfinals is something that is certainly not out of the club’s reach.  

USA Player Ratings VS Germany

Generally speaking, it’s difficult to assign grades to players who barely touched the ball. The statistics will show that Germany had possession of the ball 60 something percent of the time. It sure felt more like 80 something. The Germans were definitely good value for their win, and with more clinical finishing (or perhaps less heroic defending by the U.S.), they could have won by three or four more goals and sent the United States packing. As it is, the States are through to the knock out stage and here’s how the boys did against Deutschland.

GK – Tim Howard: 6.0 – Mueller’s bullet in the 55th minute was unstoppable, but had Howard simply collected the soft header low to his right rather than try to punch it out through the middle of the box, his score would be higher. Apart from that moment of madness, he was steady and commanding in the box, though nothing overly spectacular was required of him.

D – DaMarcus Beasley: 6.5 – Another solid performance from the veteran. One of the few U.S. players who got forward a little bit, and wasn’t beaten on the defensive end either.

D – Omar Gonzalez: 7.5 – Man of the match for the Americans. Several well-timed tackles to save sure goals and apart from a muffed clearance early, was brilliant. Didn’t support the offense much but when your team doesn’t have the ball, what can you do?

D – Matt Besler: 7.0 – Besler might well be the next American defender to get a contract from an English Premier League side. Few players have been steadier in the group stage. You can add toughness to his resume too, as he’s dealt with a troublesome hamstring.

D – Fabian Johnson: 5.0 – Disappointing performance from the right back. He wasn’t terrible, but completely failed to run at Benedikt Hoewedes after the German left back picked up an early yellow card. Made some timely interceptions, but also gave the Germans too much room in attack.

M – Brad Davis: 4.5 – The MLS veteran appeared out of his depth at the World Cup level. Left Beasley exposed at the back too frequently by failing to fill the gaps. Never got to attempt any free kicks, which is his specialty and the reason he was put in the side to begin with. Subbed out in the second half, probably later than he should have been.

M – Kyle Beckerman: 6.5 – Did what he always does. Provided solid support in front of the back four. Even made a few forays into the German half and didn’t look out of place, nor was he caught in possession like he was against Portugal a couple of times. Nice shift put in by the veteran midfielder.

M – Jermaine Jones: 6.0 – Didn’t show the all-around brilliance he displayed in the first two group games, but certainly wasn’t bad. His touch let him down a few times, but he defended well like he always does, and managed to avoid picking up a yellow card and preserve his eligibility for the round of 16. Fortunate not to be hurt after a gruesome looking collision with sub, Alejandro Bedoya.

M – Michael Bradley: 5.5 – Decent recovery performance by Bradley. After being historically awful against Ghana and Portugal, he can consider himself fortunate to not have been dropped. He wasn’t able to accomplish a ton offensively, but he managed to not give the ball away in bad positions, and was able to distribute well to the wings on the few occasions the U.S. managed to keep possession.

M – Graham Zusi: 4.5 – A bit of a let down from the Sporting Kansas City man. His delivery on corners was poor, and apart from going fairly close with an early effort that Manny Neuer probably would have stopped anyway had it been on target, was anonymous.

F – Clint Dempsey: 5.0 – Was completely shut down by the German defense. Fluffed a glorious chance at a headed equalizer deep into second half stoppage time to put a bow on a thoroughly forgettable offensive day for Deuce. That said, he tracked back and defended well from the front, which against Germany, is key for your forwards to do.

The Substitutes

M – Alejandro Bedoya: 5.0 – Fairly anonymous, apart from colliding with Jones, in the 20 minutes he was given. Had a sight of goal late in the second half, but took slightly too long to let it rip and let Phillip Lahm nip in for a sliding deflection.

M – DeAndre Yedlin: 4.5 – Shocking that he wasn’t introduced earlier with his youth and speed. Wasn’t lacking in energy, but the one chance he had to whip a dangerous cross in resulted in an unsophisticated larrup 25 feet over the goal and end line.

Coach: Jurgen Klinsmann: 5.5 – No magic subs this time, and a head scratcher in starting Davis. Also took too long to introduce fresh legs in Yedlin. That said, if you want to look at the group stage as a whole, he did well to advance the U.S. out of a brutal group.

The Referee: Ravshan Irmatov, Uzbekistan: 5.5 – Botched an advantage call early, and missed a couple of fouls committed by the Americans. Notably, both Bradley and Beckerman were fortunate to avoid early yellows. Reminder, 5.5 is not an awful grade. It’s not a great grade. It’s just there. And Irmatov, like the two refs that officiated the first two games, didn’t make any game-swinging bad decisions. There weren’t any near penalties, but still, he let the players decide the game.

USA Player Ratings Versus Portugal

Disaster came early and late for the United States.  In a game where they still earned a priceless point, the U.S. will be kicking themselves for not bagging all three and securing passage into the knock out round. 

Without further ado, here’s how the lads graded out.

GK – Tim Howard: 6 – He can’t be blamed for Nani’s opener, though falling flat on your back is probably not the strategy best employed when faced with an opposing forward alone with the ball in front of you. Made a couple of big saves, though to be honest, his own mistakes led to the opportunities that yielded the big saves. The last second equalizer from Portugal was unstoppable.

D – DaMarcus Beasley: 6.5 – For as shaky as he was in the opener against Ghana, he was every bit as steady in this one. Pressed forward, defended responsibly, kept possession. A nice performance from the veteran.

D – Matt Besler: 7.5 – Less regarded than his central defense partner, he was superior today. Portugal’s forwards were a non-factor for the most part, and his commanding performance was a big part of that. If you’re going to nitpick, you’d still like to see more thumping clearances when the situation calls for it, but he was essentially mistake-free today. 

D – Geoff Cameron: 3.5 – My oh my, his whiffed clearance that lead to Nani’s goal was surpassed in incompetence perhaps only by Spanish keeper Iker Casillas’ horrible first touch give-away against Spain. He was also beaten on Portugal’s equalizer at the death, though it was a perfect ball that led to it. Still, when you’re attached to both opposing goals, accountability is a must.  

D – Fabian Johnson: 6.5 – I think he read our review of the Ghana game. Got forward aggressively and caused problems for Portugal’s defense. Unfortunately, none of his efforts really bore fruit, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. Defended competently too, which for a fullback should be considered the top priority anyway.

M – Alejandro Bedoya: 4.5 – Well, you rarely heard his name…which if he’s a goalie, that’s good. But he isn’t. He’s a wide midfielder whose role in the offense is…well, to help create offense. And he did little. Subbed off and deservedly so. It’s a surprise it didn’t come earlier. Should probably be dropped for the Germany game. 

M – Michael Bradley: 2.5 – It couldn’t possibly be worse than his performance against Ghana, right? Well, it was equally bad. His unforgiveable turnover in the final seconds led to the equalizing goal, costing the U.S. guaranteed advancement. And it was his THIRD turnover of stoppage time, and we lost count of all the give-aways during regular time. Before the U.S. took the lead, he squandered a practically unmissable scoring chance, a defender deflecting his shot off the line with the entire goal at his mercy. The three or four good passes he made do not even the scales. He’s not fit to wear the shirt.  

M – Kyle Beckerman: 5.5 – Worked hard, as he always does, but was careless in possession at times, taking too much time with the ball. He wasn’t nearly as terrible as Bradley, offering valuable support in front of the back four, but he failed to replicate the quality of his performance against Ghana. 

M – Jermaine Jones: 9.0 – His stunning equalizer will be a finalist for goal of the tournament, but he was miles away the best player on the field before that happened. Tough in the tackle, great in distribution, and just about everything you want from a holding midfielder. The yellow card he was assessed was his first, and came on a bad call too so his legendary temper is in check.

M – Graham Zusi: 6.0 – Zusi was ok. He ran hard, tried to support the defense, but once again, he was the provider on the key goal for the U.S. It was his lone contribution of note, but when you create goals, that’s enough in a supporting role.

F – Clint Dempsey: 8.0 – As the lone striker, he found space difficult to come by up front. That said, he never stopped working and got his deserved goal. He’s the very definition of a leader for this team. Anything said beyond this will just be me man-crushing. 

The Substitutes

M – DeAndre Yedlin: 6.5 – Superb raw talent, showcased excellent skill on the right wing after coming on. His cross started the sequence that led to Dempsey’s go-ahead goal. 

F – Chris Wondolowski: 6.0 – Wasn’t on the field long, but did the right things, holding possession and running time off the clock. If not for Bradley’s disastrous play, the media would probably point to his play in the final minutes as a key factor in protecting the lead. 

D – Omar Gonzalez: N/A – Not on the field long enough to generate a rating.

Coach – Jurgen Klinsmann: 6.0 – His players were not lacking for effort, so he deserves some credit for that. In addition, another bold substitution led to a big goal. But, leaving Bradley on the field for what now amounts to 190 (counting stoppage time) plus minutes of some of the most ruinously bad play in U.S. international soccer history is unexplainable. 

Referee – Nestor Pitana, Argentina: 6.5 – Again, the United States was fortunate to be involved in a game with a solid referee. All the big decisions were correct, though Nani should have been given a yellow for his embarrassing dive in the U.S. box, and the yellow awarded to Jones was not deserved. Still, nobody is perfect, and he did his main job of calling a fair game very well. 

USA Player Ratings Versus Ghana

The United States Men’s National Team picked up a priceless three points against old nemesis Ghana, who were the architects of their demise in the previous two World Cups. Their 2-1 victory Monday, while vital, was not the product of superior play however. Ghana dominated much of the game after Clint Dempsey’s superb opener a mere 32 seconds into the game. The U.S. seemed to struggle with the heat and humidity, and picked up several injuries during the course of the game. Some players rose to the challenge, others wilted. 

Anyway, below are The Stain’s ratings of the American players today on a scale of 1 to 10. Full disclosure, I’m modeling our 1-10 scale on several I read weekly during the English Premier League season because, simply put, I like the way they do it. A perfect 10 is exceedingly difficult to achieve. I’m sure there have been a few, but I have only ever seen one awarded in an article that I read, and it belonged to Hull City goal keeper Boaz Myhill for his otherworldly performance against Tottenham Hotspur a few years ago. In that game, Myhill made no fewer than a dozen saves, many of them of the spectacular variety, and a few that were impossible to believe. Nary a fumble, nor a stumble, and I’m apparently now a poet. For perspective, even the virtuoso performances of Dutch studs Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie against Spain on Friday earned an 8.5 and 9.0 respectively in my eyes. 

So basically, anything 7 or above is meritorious. A 6 is solid, depending on what may have been expected of that player. 5 is mediocre. 4 is bad. And we don’t need to get into what any lower numbers represent, though spoiler alert, there are a couple. 

Without further ado:

GK – Tim Howard: 7.0 – I understand that I’m in the minority, but I don’t feel that Howard is the best keeper on the U.S. roster. I’d start Brad Guzan. That said, Howard was strong. He commanded his area well, intervened on a bunch of crosses, made a slick save low and to his left to deny Asamoah Gyan in the first half, and marshalled his defenders well. His distribution left a little to be desired, as he has a propensity to hoof goal kicks out of bounds, or nowhere near a teammate. And while Andre Ayew’s equalizer in the 82nd minute was a nice finish to round off a nice play, Howard was beaten on the short side, and may have stopped it had he elected to simply make himself big and force a perfect strike rather than cheat to the far post. All in all, a job well done by the Everton netminder. Continued play at this level bodes well for U.S. chances.

D – Damarcus Beasley: 4.5 – For the first 25 minutes or so, Beasley was horrific, at one point just falling over as Christian Atsu dribbled past him. It was brutal. But slowly, the veteran rounded into form a little bit. And while he never quite looked comfortable, he did push forward on the left side to try and create offense, and never failed to give the maximum in effort tracking back. Lastly, he was also one of the few Americans who tried to do the right thing in second half stoppage time and keep the ball, rather than orchestrate a scoring opportunity that would just gift the ball back to the Africans, who to their credit, never quit putting the pressure on.

D – Geoff Cameron: 6.5 – The Stoke City fullback was excellent in a no-nonsense performance. He didn’t distribute the ball very well, nor did he pose much of a threat on offense during set pieces, but he tackled well and did a terrific job with young John Brooks, who was called into second half duty after starting partner Matt Besler had to depart with hamstring issues. More on both later. But perhaps most impressive about Cameron, he toughed through all 100 minutes (there were 5 minutes of stoppage time in each half) despite have difficulties with what appeared to be a calf injury of some sort. You’d like to see more authoritative clearances but all in all, he was a battler today, and his effort was appreciated by fans and teammates alike.

D – Matt Besler: 6.0 – Belser left the game at half time due to a tight hamstring. One of the more inexperienced starters on the team, Besler did not seem overwhelmed with his first World Cup start. He marked well, positioned himself correctly, and hasn’t a single thing to be ashamed of. Like Cameron, you’d like to see better clearances and more accurate passing out of the back, but those things will likely come as the experience accumulates.

D – Fabian Johnson: 5.0 – For the most part, Johnson was ok. He displayed a willingness to tackle and wasn’t intimidated. But one of the big reasons he is starting at right back is his ability to maraud forward and cause nightmares for the opposition’s left side defense. Johnson was barely involved offensively, and in his one foray into Ghana’s penalty area, he seemed directionless after initially beating his defender with a sparkling piece of skill. Plus, he was the one in charge of marking Ayew on his equaliser and didn’t diagnose the Ghanain’s run in time to intervene. Hey Fabian! Use your speed and skill and RUN AT THE DEFENSE! The U.S. is good on set pieces and Johnson is always the most likely to earn one.

M – Alejandro Bedoya: 5.5 – Bedoya wasn’t bad, and ran his absolute heart out, but his first touch was simply terrible. You have to give him props for battling through what appeared to be some hip difficulty before being substituted late on. He first appeared to be bugged by it early in the second half, by which time the U.S. had already burned two substitutions, so it was important for him to go as far as he could manage. You’d have liked to see him be tidier, but he didn’t once lack for effort. 

M – Michael Bradley: 2.5 – Even that is being generous, but at least he didn’t score an own goal. Bradley is the team’s best field player, and turned in what might the worst performance of anyone ever in a U.S. jersey during a World Cup game. Repeated turn overs, shocking decision making, and lack of awareness, you could have plugged in third choice keeper Nick Rimando at Bradley’s spot and gotten better. Perhaps worst of all, with a tired U.S. squad clinging to a lead in stoppage time, Bradley spurned an opportunity to burn priceless time off the clock, instead trying to force the creation of a needless scoring chance, and basically just gifted the ball back to Ghana. You could argue that he should simply be sent home, and he definitely should be dropped from the line up against Portugal on Sunday. Neither will happen, but any more performances like this, his international career is in jeopardy. 

M – Kyle Beckerman: 8.0 – For my money, Beckerman was the man of the match. He’s another guy whose inclusion in the World Cup squad surprised me, as he’s limited offensively, and hasn’t done much to impress in previous opportunities to feature for the U.S. But today, he was superb. Playing in front of the back four, he tackled relentlessly, made smart decisions, and possibly in an effort to make up for Bradley’s pathetic display, tried to help in the attack a bit in the second half, and didn’t look out of place at all doing it. The 32-year-old can hold his head high, and any more efforts like this one will raise the question why he wasn’t featured more prominently in previous international tournaments. 

M – Jermaine Jones: 7.5 – What exactly is it with guys I wasn’t keen on? Jones is another guy who I’ve never been a big fan of. He’s not particularly skillful, and a notorious hothead who lets his emotions get the better of him. At least, he was until today. Maximum effort for 100 minutes, top drawer defending, and he kept his head about him after an early clash. Like Beckerman, he doesn’t bring a ton offensively, but he too got involved, and set up Clint Dempsey’s opening goal with a smart pass. Moreover, he was one of the few American’s late on with the wherewithall to try and keep possession. Possibly his finest performance in a U.S. shirt. 

F – Jozy Altidore: 3.5 – Altidore wasn’t on the field long enough to have an impact, as a hamstring pull forced an early departure. He’s not a guy the U.S. could really afford to lose, as even in his poorer games, he still demands attention. In this one, his lone activity of note was electing to try and smash a shot through two Ghana defenders rather than lay off an easy pass to a wide open teammate at the top of the 18 yard box. 

F – Clint Dempsey: 6.5 – His opener in the first minute was a beauty. Beat a defender on the dribble, and a perfect finish. Unfortunately, Dempsey also became part of the U.S. walking wounded, taking a kick to the face that bloodied and possibly broke his nose. The kick appeared to be inadvertent, if careless, and the failure to call a foul was one of the referee’s few poor decisions. But it did leave Dempsey with an injury that impacted his breathing and therefore his effectiveness for the rest of the game. Nevertheless, “Deuce” trucked on and finished the game. It was a gutsy effort to be sure. 

The Substitutes

F – Aron Johannsson: 3.5 – He came on for Altidore in the first half, and to be truthful, disappointed. The skills that led to a productive year for Dutch big-timers AZ Alkmaar were nowhere to be seen. After a start that saw him give away possession multiple times, there was a glimmer of hope as a he played a smart and accurate outlet to Bedoya to start a U.S. counter attack. That, sadly, was the lone bright spot. The rest of the game was a combination of anonymity and failure to challenge for, much less keep possession. This stage appears to big for him at this point of his career.

D – John Brooks: 7.0 – Well, there’s the small detail that his smashing header off of a late corner was the game-winning goal. Apart from that, he also managed to do just enough defensively to thwart Ghana’s attacks. In what appears to be a theme among U.S. defenders, Brooks’ clearances were often barely sufficient rather than the thunderous boot the situations called for, but considering the circumstances of his introduction into the game, he performed admirably. 

M – Graham Zusi: 5.5 – Zusi offers some creativity and flair on offense, and about as much as I do on defense…after my fourth beer. However, his corner kick on Brooks’ winner was pin point. 10 minutes is not enough time to evaluate how much someone can contribute, but on Zusi’s brief participation in this one, Coach Jurgen Klinsmann should consider starting him ahead of Bradley against Portugal. 

Coach – Jurgen Klinsmann: 6.0 – Well, his team won. The Brooks substitution for Besler ended up being a winner. You can’t come down too hard on a guy whose team won. That said, there is no reason that five or six players should end up with muscle strains in a game. Yeah, these are grown men and shouldn’t have to be reminded to stretch, for heaven’s sake. But Jurgie needs to keep a more watchful eye on pre-game preparations. 

The Referee

Jonas Eriksson – Sweden: 7.5 – I’ll admit, I’m always quick to criticize officials. I think largely, it’s befuddling how bad most of them are. But Eriksson and his crew were excellent in this one. Yeah, the face kick on Dempsey went uncalled, which was kind of an obvious one to miss. But, no dodgy penalties awarded, all the offside decisions were correct, and he kept his cards in his pocket unless one was actually warranted. Truly a job well done for the Swede and his crew. 

2014 World Cup Preview: Group H

Group at a Glance: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, and South Korea.  This is another one of the weaker groups in the World Cup, but still has some star power and plenty of intrigue.  Algeria doesn’t have what it takes to compete in this group and will likely settle in as the fourth team in the group.  Belgium was one of the eight seeded groups coming into the World Cup draw, but currently sit outside the top ten in FIFA rankings.  South Korea and Russia have plenty of talent to challenge for the top spot in the group.

Favorites to Advance: The favorite to advance is Belgium, but it is no sure thing.  I actually have them finishing second in the group.  Russia is a common favorite to secure the second spot out of the group stages, but it will go to South Korea.  The Korean’s have some really talented footballers that could catch other squads off guard.  I like South Korea to secure the top spot in the group with Belgium close behind, and look for an epic showdown between the two teams star players when they face off, those two players are my players to watch.

Player(s) to Watch: The best player in the group is Eden Hazard of Belgium. He has scored or assisted on 12 goals in 19 matches in the Premiership this season, but has just 5 goals in 42 matches while playing for his country.  Belgium might be able to get out of the group without Hazard playing great, but he needs to step up big time in the knockout rounds for them to make any kind of run, especially with the talent coming out of Group G.  Son Hueng-Min will star for South Korea.  The 21 year old has played great for both club and country over the past 12 months and could be a true wild card in the group stage.

You can follow Shaun Kernahan on twitter @shaunkernahan, add him to your network on Google, and like Shaun on Facebook.

2014 World Cup Preview: Group G

Group at a Glance: Germany, Portugal, Ghana, United States. We definitely have a contender for the Group of Death here. Three very tough teams, plus the United States who have shown that when on their game, they can in fact hang with the world’s best. There should be some barnburners in this group, but it’s also another example of how the current system is horribly flawed. When one group has four teams that are better than the seeded teams in some other groups, that’s a problem. However, if you’re grading on entertainment value, this is probably the group to watch. If there’s a common perceived weakness with these teams, it’s strength in defense, so you’re going to see lots of goals.

Favorites to Advance: Germany and Portugal. The obvious isn’t always the way it goes in World Cup soccer, but in this case, it is. Both squads are fielding world-class midfields and loads of big stage experience. And of the four rickety defenses, the US and Ghana are the most vulnerable.

Players to Watch: Sami Khedira, Mesut Ozil, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Nani. Who is looking forward to defending these guys? Yeah, I wouldn’t be either. Masterful, the first three, and occasionally so for Nani, the German and Portuguese midfields will be something to behold.

Homer Corner: The United States has its plusses. They have some experience in midfield, some talented players in the world’s top leagues, and a coach in Jurgen Klinsman who has the players’ belief and dedication. That said, there are too many question marks. The unproven Omar Gonzales and Clarence Goodson take over central defense from the dependable duo of Carlos Bocanegra and Jay Demerit. Inexplicably, DaMarcus Beasley, who long ago sailed past the last port of international soccer relevance, is deemed to be the best option at left back. God only knows who replaces the criminally underrated Steve Cherundolo at right back. Geoff Cameron? Michael Parkhurst? Timothy Chandler? Eric Lichaj? It doesn’t appear to be a winning combo. Veteran Clint Dempsey provides some scoring punch up front, and if they move Landon Donovan to the wing, where he’s better suited, and pair Dempsey with Jozy Altidore at forward, they may score enough to edge a result over Ghana. But sadly, the group stage is where it will end for the stars and stripes in 2014.

2014 World Cup Preview: Group F

Group at a Glance: Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, and Nigeria.  There are several groups in the running for group of death, this is not one of them.  Argentina currently sits at third in the world according to FIFA standings, with Bosnia-Herzegovina coming in at 19, Iran at 33, and Nigeria at 37. This group probably has the least amount of total talent of all the groups.

Favorites to Advance: If Argentina does not go through the group stage with nine points, they have failed.  They should win the group easy and the battle is for second.  Bosnia-Herzegovina is the initial favorite to be the second team out of the group, but their biggest competition might be Nigeria.  Iran may be ranked higher than Nigeria in the current FIFA standings, but Nigeria is the better team.

Player(s) to Watch: It is very easy, and correct, to say the player to watch is Lionel Messi for Argentina.  He is the best player in the world and it really isn’t all that close.  When not watching in awe of Messi, the other guy to keep an eye on is Edin Dzeko from Bosnia-Hezegovina.  Dzeko has teamed with Sergio Aguero at Manchester City to create arguably the best striking duo in the Premiership, and that comes from a United supporter.

You can follow Shaun Kernahan on twitter @shaunkernahan, add him to your network on Google, and like Shaun on Facebook.