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Team USA 101: 5 Things You Should Know Before The Game

U.S. forward Clint Dempsey carries the ball against Mexico during the second half of an international friendly soccer match in April.
Rick Scuteri
U.S. forward Clint Dempsey carries the ball against Mexico during the second half of an international friendly soccer match in April.

So, a friend has invited you over for a World Cup watching party on Monday when Team USA faces Ghana.

Seems like a cool idea, but, truth is, you only pay attention to soccer every four years. No worries. We have your back.

Here's a guide with five basics you need to know to enjoy the beautiful game and at least hold your own in conversation:

-- Team USA's Odds Are Not Good: Sorry to break it to you, but the U.S. national team is a part of Group G, which journalists have labeled the 2014 World Cup "Group of Death."

Fox Sports tells us just why that's the case, especially for the U.S.:

"The USA shares Group G with Ghana, Portugal and Germany, whom they will play in that order; the first knocked the Americans out of the last two World Cups; the second has arguably the world's finest player in Cristiano Ronaldo, even though he is hobbled by injuries, and is always an outsider at the World Cup; the third has made more World Cup semifinals than any other country — a dozen in 17 appearances."

-- Even The U.S. Coach Is Pessimistic: The German Jurgen Klinsmann, who in 2011 became the first foreigner to coach the squad, was blunt in an interview with The New York Times.

Bottom line, he said:

"We cannot win this World Cup, because we are not at that level yet. For us, we have to play the game of our lives seven times to win the tournament."


-- Without Donovan: Aside from making news with his terse style, Klinsmann also ruffled some feathers when he left Landon Donovan, a quintessential American player, off the squad.

He said as players age — Donovan is 32 — they "lose a little bit of an edge" physically.

"I have to do what I think is the right way," Klinsmann said. "I'm very strongly convinced this is the right way. We'll find out the next seven weeks if it was."

How controversial is this decision? Donovan is perhaps the best known soccer player in the U.S. His goal against Algeria during the 2010 World Cup was miraculous. It kept the U.S. in the tournament and came during stoppage. When Andrés Cantor called the play, after an especially epic gooooool, he said, "Donovan is the greatest player in the history of U.S. soccer:"

Sports Illustrated ranked it the second most important goal in U.S. soccer history.

-- The Rain: NPR's Tom Goldman, reporting from Natal, Brazil, tells Weekend All Things Considered that it has not stopped raining there. It's torrential and even for someone based in Oregon, says Goldman, this is a lot of rain.

It did finally stop before the game on Monday, but not before everything got a good soaking.

Goldman says Ghana is a speedy team that goes on the attack, and the U.S. is a possession team.

"Both of those strategies might suffer with heavy water on the field," Goldman says.

The forecast calls for more rain Monday.

-- Oh, Ghana: The Black Stars, as the team is known, have been breaking American hearts for years. They have knocked the U.S. out of the World Cup twice.

In 2010, after Donovan landed that amazing goal against Algeria, Ghana won during the next round in extra time.

It was excruciating. And marked the point where Team USA, which was attempting to overcome a Sisyphean destiny, ran out of miracles.

As The New York Daily News reports, there are only four players on the American roster who were on the team for that game in South Africa. They say they've let go of that disappointment.

"Not a word's been spoken," Tim Howard, Team USA's goalkeeper, said. "We said that all along, that was four years ago, ancient history. This is a different team with a different mindset."

Howard told the paper the U.S. is not out for revenge.

"That's not what's motivating us," Howard said. "They're a good team, but we think we're better, younger and more athletic."

Also, if you're a fan of momentum, it's on the red-white-and-blue's favor. Bleacher Report says the U.S. has won its last three tune-up matches, while Ghana has lost two of three.

Still, this is a terribly important game for the U.S. Only two teams from Group G will move on to the next round. In order to have a chance to beat out Germany and Portugal, the U.S. needs at least a draw, but more than likely a win, against Ghana.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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