USA’s “Group of Death” Now looking a Bit Easier

team-usa-group-of-deathThe US Men’s National Team must have been pretty bad leading up to Christmas of 2013. After all, they got about the worst gift a soccer team could receive last December after being drawn into a group with Germany, Ghana and Portugal. Quickly dubbed the “Group of Death,” Germany and Portugal are ranked in FIFA’s top four while Ghana has knocked USA out of the last two World Cups.

This being said, it’s no wonder why head coach Jurgen Klinsmann was quick to proclaim his group “the worst of the worst.” But due to recent developments, there may be some light at the end of the tunnel for USMNT as they prepare for their opening match against Ghana. That’s because Group G has taken some big hits, most notably Germany and Portugal’s injury struggles. It’s for this reason why some believe that it’s a toss-up between Group B and Group D for the current 2014 World Cup Group of Death.

So what’s changed from December until now, just one day before the Cup begins? To answer this question, let’s take a look at some updated Group G previews.

Germany – Ranked second in FIFA’s rankings and favored by some to usurp Spain as the new World Cup champions, Germany suffered a huge blow when midfielder Marco Reus tore a ligament in his left ankle. The injury comes at a terrible time to Germany’s 2012 Footballer of the Year since he won’t play a single minute in Brazil. This team has loads of talent so don’t be surprised if Germany still wins Group G and advances far in the tournament. However, the loss of Reus is puts a chink in Germany’s seemingly impenetrable armor.

kwadwo-asamoah-world-cupGhana – There are no major injuries to report from Ghana’s side. And this is certainly a formidable team, as they showed in 2010 by making it to the Cup quarterfinals. But then again, this is no Germany…they’re not even the top squad in Africa. No, that honor would belong to 2013 African Nations Cup champ Nigeria, which the US beat 2-1 a few days ago. USA will have to watch out for Ghana’s strong midfield, led by their star player, Kwadwo Asamoah. But overall, this is definitely a beatable team.

Portugal – The Portuguese have one advantage in this tournament that other teams just can’t match – Cristiano Ronaldo, the world’s best player. At times, Ronaldo carries this squad, as he showed by scoring three goals in a World Cup-qualifying playoff match against Sweden. The Real Madrid striker is coming into the Cup with left patellar tendinosis – a injury that features weak collagenous fibers in a tendon. Long story short, Ronaldo risks further injury to his ailing knee every second that he’s on the pitch in Brazil.

michael-bradley-world-cupUSA – Okay, so this article is overly pro-USA, so let’s look at what the Americans have to deal with. This team is considered very much a wild card in Group G since Klinsmann kept a lot of younger players on the 23-man roster. So inexperience could be a major issue with some of the American substitutes. Of course, there’s also the whole thing about Klinsmann thinking that his team has no chance to win the Cup. We don’t totally disagree with him on this assessment. However, with strong leaders like midfielder Michael Bradley and striker Clint Dempsey, USMNT does look like they at least have an opportunity to advance out of Group G.

DaMarcus Beasley looking to set US History at 2014 World Cup

damarcus-beasley-2014-world-cup-1DaMarcus Beasley is a name that many US soccer fans are very familiar with. As a 20-year-old, he helped propel Team USA into the Quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup – their best finish since 1930.

Since that time, though, Beasley’s World Cup career hasn’t gone quite so smoothly. He was part of the disappointing 2006 US squad that quickly flamed out in Germany, and he followed that up with just 10 minutes of playing time at the 2010 World Cup.

After his limited South African campaign, there was little reason to believe that Beasley would have any chance at making the 2014 World Cup roster. For starters, he was entering his 30s, a time where many past heroes are cut to make way for the younger crop. Another thing that Beasley had going against him was a lengthy history of injuries. 2009 was especially tumultuous for him as the injured American failed to gain much playing time with both Team USA and the Rangers of the Scottish Premier League.

Nevertheless, US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann asked him to play left back in a 2013 World Cup qualifying game against Costa Rica. Trying a new position in blizzard conditions wasn’t exactly an ideal situation. But Beasley rose to the challenge and helped the Americans grab a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica.

damarcus-beasley-2014-world-cup“I’ve played a lot of different positions in the national team, from forward to left mid, right mid. Center mid, in the back,” he recalled when asked about the match. “The left back came from the snow game against Costa Rica. He (Klinsmann) asked me if I could play it. Timmy Chandler was out. Fabian Johnson was out. Parky (Michael Parkhurst) was out. Every left back you could ever imagine was out. That was my first call-up for a while. He asked me if I could play it, so I said, ‘Yeah.’ That was it. He had confidence in me since that day to play that position and here I am now.”

Following that contest, Beasley started at left back during a 0-0 tie against Mexico at Azteca Stadium. From there he served as the US team’s captain during their Gold Cup title run. Having made 17 caps since early 2013 and shown some incredible leadership skills, it didn’t come as a complete shock when Beasley was named to the 23-man final roster for Team USA.

Now, Beasley is gunning for history because he has an opportunity to become the first American to play in four World Cups. What’s more is that he’d be one of just two dozen players around the world to compete in four Cups. Of course, the first step will be making it onto the pitch during one of America’s three group-play matches against Ghana, Germany and Portugal. Just taking Beasley’s experience into account, he has a good opportunity to play in all of these games and possibly even start.

“You take the game in a different light. Now that I’m 31, I wish I would have known what I know now when I was 20,” Beasley said. “It would have made things a lot easier. But, at the same time, that’s what you do when you’re 20-20, you just want to run around and play and you don’t care what happens. Now, you look at the game in a different way. I’m still enjoying the game. For me, just being confident in your ability as well. If you’re confident in yourself, no one can teach that. Klinsmann can’t teach that, the Bruce Arenas, the Bob Bradleys, no one can teach that confidence that you instill in yourself.”

When/if Beasley does get on the field, he’ll have his work cut out. That’s because the US is stuck in the 2014 World Cup’s “Group of Death.” Germany and Portugal are ranked second and third, respectively, in the FIFA rankings while Ghana has had a good deal of World Cup success lately.

damarcus-beasley-2014-world-cup-2Nevertheless, Beasley knows that American fans have come to expect great results from Team USA. In fact, the 2002 Cup team that he was on serves as a measuring stick for what future squads do. “Now you have $6 to $8 million players on the team, so expectations have changed,” he said. “You have a lot of players at big clubs. It’s different from when I first came on the scene.

“It’s tough to say if we’re better than we were back then, because I think the 2002 team was a great team. It’s tough to compare. But the fans, the media and we expect more. We expect to get out of this group and we want to better that 2002 team and get past the quarterfinals.”

It’s certainly nice that Beasley and the US aren’t lacking in confidence. And they have every reason to believe that they’ve got a chance of making it out of their group, given that the US is ranked 14th in the world. However, they’ll definitely have a tough road to the knockout round, and Beasley and other defenders need to be on their best to slow down Germany and Portugal’s attacks.