We've reached yet another "most important game in American soccer history" as the United States takes on Ghana in a Round of 16 match today in Rustenburg. I'm the first one to roll his eyes when I hear the hyperbole time and time again, but quite frankly, this one is pretty huge.
There's no doubt that a successful run in the World Cup does wonders for growing the sport on American soil, but I maintain that U.S. fans on the fence about this whole "soccer thing" aren't satisfied with Round of 16 or quarterfinal appearances. Americans love a winner. This team may have met expectations by surviving the group stage, but the sport won't flourish unless we make a serious run.
The draw has been set up in an extremely favorable manner for the Yanks, who will face the Black Stars, the only African team left in the tournament. If they win, Uruguay awaits in the quaterfinals. Both teams will present viable challenges, but the fact that they could avoid Brazil, Argentina, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands until the semifinals is extraordinarily lucky.
That's why this game is so important. Every four years, the U.S. is given a chance to make their mark on the world's sport and tournament has gifted them a chance to succeed. Of course, two goals have been stolen from the Americans so far by horrendous calls, but when you look back at Robert Green's gaffe and look ahead to this fortuitous draw, I think karma has pulled even.
As always, here are Bodog.com's odds for today's game:
Who will win?
United States 7/5
Asamoah Gyan (GHA) 6/1
Landon Donovan (USA) 13/2
Josmer Altidore (USA) 13/2
Clint Dempsey (USA) 7/1
Matthew Amoah (GHA) 7/1
Robbie Findley (USA) 8/1
Hercules Gomez (USA) 8/1
Edson Buddle (USA) 9/1
Prince Tagoe (GHA) 9/1
UPDATE (2 p.m.) -- The U.S. lineup has been announced and the key changes include Robbie FIndley back up top, Ricardo Clark back in central midfield and the same sans-Gooch back line used against Algeria.
Altidore - Findley
Dempsey - Clark - Bradley - Donovan*
Bornstein - Bocanegra - DeMerit - Cherundolo
* = Makings his 12th appearance in a World Cup game -- an American record.
As for the Americans' lineup, my crystal ball didn't work too well last time when head coach Bob Bradley decided to start Herculez Gomez up top and Johnny Bornstein in the back. I didn't see those moves coming, but that's why I'm not the head coach of the national team.
Much of the buzz about Ghana is about how they employ a 4-5-1, and whether Bradley will alter his normal 4-4-2 to account for that. Robbie Findley is available again, so he can be considered up top. I've read, however, that Clint Dempsey may get the start so he can drop back into the midfield when necessary so Michael Bradley isn't overwhelmed with Ghana's three central midfielders.
On defense, you also have to wonder if "Gooch" makes a comeback or stays on the pine. Ghana is another quick team with Asamoah Gyan as the lone striker, so perhaps Bradley sticks with Bornstein on the left and the same back four that helped Tim Howard pick up his first World Cup clean sheet. He's got a chance to pick up another one as Ghana's only two goals this tournament have come via the penalty kick.
Bradley has a few options for the U.S., which will try to avenge its 2-1 loss to the Ghanaians in the 2006 World Cup. I was at that memorable match, when the hopes of American fans were elevated and crushed within five minutes on Clint Dempsey's equalizer and a questionable call in the box that set up Stephen Appiah's penalty kick and eventual game-winner.
What would you do if you were in charge? We'll be back later to report what he's decided.