Analysis from Mike Foss in Recife: The United States battled Germany to a scoreless draw in a torrential downpour in Recife. Any ideas of collusion between U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his coutnryman Joachim Loew were put to rest almost immediately.
Germany battered the U.S. for the first 20 minutes of the match, coming close to finding the back of the net on several occasions. The U.S. countered late on, finding several opportunities to attack, the best from Graham Zusi, whose effort from 20 yards out just missed over the goal.
Here are three things the U.S. needs to execute in the second half.
1. Stay compact.
If the U.S. is going to continue to concede the flanks to Germany, the American backline has to maintain its shape. Centerbacks Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler along with midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones are setting up as a square when Germany swings in crosses, which is fine, so long as they continue to keep that integrity.
2. Don't get caught going forward.
When the U.S. does get opportunities to attack, it's important to not send the same numbers forward that it did against Portugal. Allow Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi, and Brad Davis to get forward, but not at the expense of leaving the defense vulnerable.
3. Don't waste possession.
When the U.S. has the ball without an option to counterattack, it needs to protect possession. Keep the ball, take the air out of the game, and slow down the pace. With Portugal up 1-0 on Ghana in the other Group G match, even a loss would send the U.S. through, so it can't be overly anxious with passes.
Michael Bradley continued to struggle, narrowly avoiding a yellow card and not getting to the ball on one play that prompted a ref's warning.
Omar Gonzalez was called for a yellow card for a bad foul. Thomas Mueller will continue to push him, so he must be careful not to get another card and be suspended for the next game, if it happens.
In other game news:
Portugal is up 1-0, which could be a good thing for the U.S. based on goal differential. The U.S. is currently at +1, while Portugal is now at -3.
A draw in this game no matter what happens between Portugal and Ghana is enough to send both of these teams through. Germany would win the group on goal differential, the United States finishing in second.
That's the easy way and don't be surprised if things coincidentally wind down towards the end of the match and finish all square, but with the US involved, nothing ever comes easy. Silvestre Varela's 95th minute goal is still stinging.
This is it: One of the most anticipated match-ups of the World Cup group stage. Here are the key match-ups.
Thomas Muller v. Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler Muller is as tricky and wily as they come. Not necessarily in the mold of a center forward, Muller gets his goals through grit and craft. He's an exceptionally smart soccer player.
The US center-back pairing of Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler haven't put together a full game yet in this tournament. Cameron was terrific against Ghana while Besler left injured, while Belser was terrific against Portugal as Cameron struggled mightily. The two who have still only played together a handful of times will have to communicate exceptionally well to not lose track of Muller. One lapse will kill, as Cameron found out against Portugal.
Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones v. Phillip Lahm and Sami Khedira Here's one problem for Germany: Phillip Lahm isn't a great central midfielder. He's a good passer and a solid midfielder, and his best position is fullback.
It's that simple. Lahm struggled against Ghana, unwilling to shoot or expand the field, and his sloppy giveaway led to Asamoah Gyan's goal. Couple that with his diminutive stature, and the vaunted German midfield which was the root cause of former US coach Steve Sampson going his infamous 3-6-1 formation before the 1998 World Cup looks a little less threatening. Fitness issues aside, Lahm in central midfield is also the reason Bastian Schweinsteiger is on the bench. With Sami Khedira only a month removed from returning after tearing his ACL, Michael Bradley could have a get-well game.
Criticism of Bradley after the Ghana game was fair, but against Portugal it was unwarranted. He covered more ground than any other US player, and his range of passing, for the most part, was exceptional. His bad giveaway at the end led to the equalizer, but it wasn't the main cause. Bad defending was. Bradley is desperate to have a great game. This US World Cup run is passing him by. Here is where he might do it.
Jermaine Jones, meanwhile, is playing against his native country in what will be an emotional game for him. Jones has said he won't celebrate if he scores (another 25-yard cracker?), and it will be interesting to see how he reacts to the occasion. Jones has played out of his skin so far, in a free role with the infallible Kyle Beckerman holding behind him Klinsmann's best tactical move of the tournament. If he continues that form, the US wins the midfield battle again.
Fabian Johnson v. Benedikt Howedes Fabian Johnson has to get forward, or the US doesn't have enough offense. That was the case against Ghana, but Johnson's rampaging runs against Portugal gave Klinsmann's team a much-needed wide threat and instant offense.
Because of Low's unwillingness to play Lahm at his natural position, it's Howedes a natural center-back, albeit a very good one who plays on the outside. Johnson can get by Howedes with pace. This is a matchup the US should be looking to exploit all day.
Clint Dempsey v. Per Mertersacker Assuming that Klinsmann sticks to the 4-5-1 that worked against Portugal, Dempsey will again be alone up top without Jozy Altidore.
Dempsey started brightly, but faded against Portugal only to pop up with what appeared to be the US's second goal. Unfortunately for Dempsey, Germany's central defense won't be as easy to breach as Portugal's but Per Mertersacker especially can be slow-footed and mistake-prone in big matches. Dempsey will need to use his guile to get much joy in this match. The US can't have him going invisible and drifting out of the game.
Jurgen Klinsmann v. Jochiem Low The unavoidable matchup. How much of Klinsmann's system does Low know, and visa-versa? There's an x-factor here that we simply can't predict. Familiarity might be a blessing or a curse, depending on how each coach handles knowing the other more or less knows their system.
How will Klinsmann deal with the Manaus effect? No team has won in the match after playing in the rainforest, and those teams have a second-half goal differential of -6. Add to that the Americans played on Sunday and the Germans on Saturday, and that unlike the Italy-England game in Manaus the US-Portugal game was a full-throttle, intense affair for 95 minutes, and this turnaround looks like a very daunting task.
Don't underestimate the physical exhaustion of the US.
In the end, the result of this game might not matter. If Portugal and Ghana draw, both the US and Germany are through. If Portugal, with their -4 goal differential, win by as many as three goals, it still looks very good for the two teams in Recife. It's if Ghana win and the US don't that you have to panic.
The US holds tiebreakers right now on goal differential as well as goals scored and head-to-head, but that could all change. Germany only need a draw to win the group and avoid Belgium, while the US have to win.
Steady now football matches don't come much better or bigger than this.