United States vs. Ghana Round III: Much Has Changed in Four Years

By Mike Cardillo

Ghana, right? It had to be Ghana, didn’t it?

United States soccer fans have dreaded, bemoaned and cursed the National Team’s draw since December. Nope, it wasn’t enough that Jurgen Klinsmann’s team landed in a group alongside European powers Germany and Portugal. The final member of the group just had to be Ghana — the same nation to eliminate the Yanks from the last two World Cups.

Since then a lot has been written about the previous matches, especially the extra time Round of 16 loss to the Black Stars in South Africa four years ago. Words like “revenge” and “experience” have been bandied about  ad nauseam. Realistically, however, aside from the nations involved and the crests on the front of the respective jerseys there isn’t all that much continuity across the three matches. It’s a random World Cup quirk, in the lines of Argentina eliminating Mexico in 2006 and 2010, only to lose to Germany in the ensuing quarterfinals each time.

Both the United States and Ghana are on their third different manager since 2006. U.S. captain Clint Dempsey — assuming he starts Monday — will be the only player to have played in each of the three World Cup games after Ghana dropped former captain John Mensah — oh right and U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann dropped that Landon Donovon fellow. Ghana, meanwhile, features the youngest roster at the 2014 World Cup, as Michael Essien is the only player on James Appiah’s team over the age of 30.  (Essien played for Ghana in 2006, but was injured for the 2010 tournament and could come off the bench today.)

All told, each team might have — at most — four returning holders from their meeting in Rustenberg, South Africa, four years ago. For the U.S., it’s Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Tim Howard and Michael Bradley. Ghana will answer with Andre Ayew, Asamoah Gyan and Kwadwo Asamoah (Kevin-Prince Boateng who scored against the U.S. in 2010, somewhat surprisingly, will not start), meaning both teams will feature rebuilt defensive back fours. Comparatively the U.S. had four players who started vs. Ghana in 2006 play again in 2010: Dempsey, Steve Cherundolo, Landon Donovan and Carlos Bocanegra. Ghana had three carryovers from 2006 to 2010. Beasley played in the 2006 Group E game in 2006, but didn’t play in 2010.

Given these circumstances, it felt worthwhile to compare the 2014 U.S. World Cup roster assembled by Klinsmann, given how radically different it is from the one Bob Bradley brought to South Africa four years ago. Klinsmann only carried over six players from the 2010 roster: DaMarcus Beasley, Howard, Bradley, Altidore, Dempsey and backup keeper Brad Guzan, who has never featured in a World Cup game.

2010 United States World Cup Roster

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (age: 25, 2010, previous World Cup participation), Marcus Hahnemann (37; 2006, 2010), Tim Howard (31; 2006, 2010)
DEFENDERS (7): Carlos Bocanegra (31; 2006, 2010), Jonathan Bornstein (25; 2010), Steve Cherundolo (31; 2002, 2006, 2010), Jay DeMerit (30; 2010), Clarence Goodson (28; 2010), Oguchi Onyewu (28; 2006, 2010), Jonathan Spector (24; 2010)
MIDFIELDERS (9): DaMarcus Beasley (28; 2002, 2006, 2010), Michael Bradley (22; 2010), Ricardo Clark (27; 2010), Clint Dempsey (27; 2006, 2010), Landon Donovan (28; 2002, 2006, 2010), Maurice Edu (24; 2010), Benny Feilhaber (25; 2010), Stuart Holden (24; 2010), Jose Torres (22; 2010)
FORWARDS (4): Jozy Altidore (20; 2010), Edson Buddle (29; 2010), Robbie Findley (24; 2010), Herculez Gomez (28; 2010)

World Cup Debutantes: 15
“Core” players: Howard, Bocanegra, Dempsey, Donovan, Cherundolo, Onyewu.
Experienced Veterans: Beasley, DeMerit, Hahnemann
Journeymen (in Hindsight): Bornstein, Spector, Clark, Feilhaber, Buddle, Findley, Gomez, Goodson
“Young” players: Bradley, Holden, Torres, Altidore, Guzan, Edu, Feilhaber

Players under the age of 25 (9): Bradley (22); Altidore (20); Spector (24); Holden (24); Torres (22); Guzan (25); Edu (24); Findley (24); Feilhaber (25).
Players over the age of 30 (5): Howard (31); Bocanegra (31); Cherundolo (31); DeMerit (30); Hahnemann (37).

Average Age: 26.9

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2014 United States World Cup Roster

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (29; 2010, 2014), Tim Howard (35; 2006, 2010, 2014), Nick Rimando (34; 2014)
DEFENDERS (8): DaMarcus Beasley (32; 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014), Matt Besler (27; 2014), John Brooks (21; 2014), Geoff Cameron (28; 2014), Timmy Chandler (24; 2014), Omar Gonzalez (25; 2014), Fabian Johnson (26; 2014), DeAndre Yedlin (20; 2014)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Kyle Beckerman (32; 2014), Alejandro Bedoya (27; 2014), Michael Bradley (26; 2010, 2014), Brad Davis (32; 2014), Mix Diskerud (23; 2014), Julian Green (19; 2014), Jermaine Jones (32; 2014), Graham Zusi (27; 2014)
FORWARDS (4): Jozy Altidore (24; 2010, 2014), Clint Dempsey (31; 2006, 2010, 2014), Aron Johannsson (23; 2014), Chris Wondolowski (31; 2014)

World Cup Debutantes: 17
“Core” players: Howard, Jones, Johnson, Bradley, Dempsey, Altidore
Experienced Veterans: Guzan, Beasley
Journeymen: Rimando, Beckerman, Davis, Wondolowski
“Young” players: Brooks, Chandler, Yedlin, Diskerud, Green, Johannsson,
Young-ish veterans: Gonzalez, Belser, Bedoya, Zusi, Cameron
Players under age 25 (8): Yedlin (20); Gonzalez (25); Brooks (21); Johannsson (23); Diskerud (23); Green (19); Alitdore (24); Chandler (24).
Player over age 30 (8): Howard (35); Beasley (32); Dempsey (31); Jones (32); Davis (32); Beckerman (32); Wondolowski (31); Rimando (34).

Holdovers from 2010 (6): Guzan, Howard, Beasley, Bradley, Altidore, Dempsey
Debutantes from 2010 on 2014 roster (3): Guzan, Bradley, Altidore
AVG Age 2014: 27.3

Jumping out at you right away is the fact that the 2014 roster is statistically older than the one four years ago, and it has less players under the age of 25 and more over the age of 30. Many people, myself included, wrote that Klinsmann’s decision to shockingly drop Donovan in late May might have been made with an eye toward the 2018 World Cup. That might be true in regards to the likes of Green, Yedlin and Brooks, but this 23-man roster lends more toward the “inexperienced” tag compared to the “young” category, overall.

The other big difference is four years ago Bob Bradley filled out the roster with the likes of Jose Torres, Jonathan Spector and Robbie Findley — young-ish players who’ve fallen out of favor in the Klinsmann regime. You can only imagine how much Bradley would have been roasted by the media for using roster spots on 32-year-old MLS lifers like Davis and Beckerman the way Klinsman did.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but looking back, it’s somewhat more impressive the U.S. got through the group given the so-so nature of the overall 23-man roster — particularly the forwards not named Altidore. Realistically, of that 23 only Michael Bradley and Altidore have appreciably improved over the last four years and that’s even debatable in the latter’s case given his woeful club season. If you’re a U.S. fan, you’d best keep your fingers crossed that a couple players from the Green/Brooks/Johannsson group develop into key contributions for the 2018 cycle, rather than fading like so many of the 2010 players have.

The wildcard here is Holden, now 28. Had injuries not derailed his career and he was starting in the U.S. midfield tonight vs. Ghana in place of either Beckerman or Jones, maybe we look at the 2010 roster much differently since it would have produced an addition “core” player.

However you look at it, Klinsmann inherited a team with an aging core, namely the defense led by Cherundolo, Bocanegra and Onyewu over the previous two World Cup cycles. Injuries forced Cherundolo to retire earlier this year, while performances (along with unsettled club issues) called time for Bocanegra and Onyewu. Of the other players from the 2010 roster perhaps only Goodson and Edu could mount compelling cases for inclusion on the final 2014 roster, while Klinsmann himself chose to distance the squad — for better or worse — from Donovan. Questions will remain if the Besler/Cameron/Gonzalez ddefensive group are sufficient or World Cup-level, although Fabian Johnson has the look of a mainstay at right back.

Although he’s mostly had to rebuild the roster taking the dual-national route for players like Johnson, Diskerud, Johannsson, Green, Brooks and Chandler, Klinsmann capably turned over the team in three years and … well … has them in the exact same spot: facing a must-win game vs. Ghana in the World Cup.

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