Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By RYAN TOLMICH
When the World Cup draw was announced back in December, the hearts of every U.S. Men’s National Team supporter slightly jumped at the sight of the team’s group opposition. There was Germany, the international powerhouse and one of the tournament favorites. There was Portugal, with the world’s best player just waiting to cement his legacy on the biggest stage.
But perhaps worst of all, there was Ghana, the perennial thorn in the team’s side after having unceremoniously dumped them from the past two World Cups. U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley said he remembers the team’s last matchup with Ghana “quite a bit”, but the 26-year-old’s biggest focus is on starting the tournament on the right foot.
“Everybody starts at zero, so the first game is so important,” Bradley said from Brazil. “Statistically the chances of advancing go way up now if you’re able to get a point or three from the first game.
“We’ve certainly made no secret of the fact that all the focus at this point is about Ghana and making sure that we do everything we can so that on June 16 we step on the field and are ready to leave it all out there knowing that a good result puts us in a really good spot.”
Having had the experience of facing the African nation is something Bradley and the U.S. can certainly benefit from, as the team is familiar with the Ghanian style of play, despite changes made since their 2010 encounter.
“Ghana’s a team that can cause you trouble, especially in the attacking half,” Bradley said. “In the attacking part of the field they have guys who have a mix of athleticism, technical ability, and the way they can take certain plays and almost improvise and turn that half play into all of a sudden, a chance. So, we have to understand what they are all about.”
“I do think it’s a different team than the one that we played in 2010 and obviously a different coach,” Bradley continued. “In 2010, they played more a 4-1-4-1. We’re pretty organized, so I think all of those little details are to still to be seen; how now they’re going approach the first game against us.”
Finally, Bradley pointed out the fact that, regardless of the opposition, the U.S. still has two games to play regardless of the Ghana result. While everything is building up to that first contest, the team, he said, understands that this is a tournament, not a single game, and the U.S. will have to perform well throughout the group stage if they hope to prove their status amongst the world’s elite.
“Obviously, we’re sitting here now and talking about wanting to start well,” Bradley said, “but just because we talk about it doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed.
“We have to have a strong enough mentality and enough commitment that says no matter how it goes, no matter what happens in the first few minutes of the first game, it doesn’t matter, we’re just ready to keep going and going and going and knowing that at the end of three games, more often than not, the best teams will be there.”