Five-point plan for USA victory
For the first time since 2002, and only the third time since 1930, USA find themselves in the later stages of the World Cup. The good news is that by finishing first in Group C, the Americans have managed to avoid heavyweights like Germany and Argentina. The bad news is that they'll next face Ghana, who - barring a miracle from Ivory Coast - will be the only remaining African team in the tournament Saturday. Translation: Ghana will have the entire continent behind them.
For USA, this match still falls into the "winnable" category, but Bob Bradley's side will have to be on top of their game in several key areas. Here's what the Americans need in order to emerge victorious:
1. Stay hungry
USA expended a huge amount of physical and emotional energy in defeating Algeria 1-0, a win that saw the team go from almost exiting the tournament to claiming the top spot in the group. But with just two days of rest between the Algeria game and Saturday's second round match, the Americans will need to regroup quickly. The opportunity in front of them is one that doesn't come around often. With the draw looking favourable, a trip to the semi-finals isn't out of the question. That fact alone should ensure that USA don't become satisfied with what they've already accomplished.
2. Clip Ghana's wings
The Americans produced their best defensive performance of the tournament against Algeria and they'll need to do the same to reach the quarter-finals. That will require limiting the influence of wide midfielders Andre Ayew and Prince Tagoe, who revel in getting wide and running at defenders. The late runs of midfielders Kevin-Prince Boateng and Kwadwo Asamoah will bear watching as well.
3. Keep sending Cherundolo forward
Bradley's side benefited from a more aggressive mindset against Algeria. This was accomplished, in part, by continually pushing right back Steve Cherundolo into the attack. Cherundolo's runs and crosses caused havoc in the Algeria defence. If he can reprise that role on Saturday, it may be just what is needed to pull Ghana's stingy defence out of shape.
4. Man up
Ghana are a notoriously physical side. The Americans would do well to remember the 2006 World Cup encounter between the two teams, when a crunching tackle on Claudio Reyna not only set up the Black Stars' first goal but also sent Reyna out of the game with a knee injury. USA are at their best when setting a match's physical tone so will have to match Ghana tackle for tackle.
5. Find the feet of the Killer D's
Aside from the second half against England, USA have kept possession impressively throughout this tournament, and as a consequence they have been able to find primary attackers Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan. For this to continue against Ghana, it will require the Americans to win the battle in the center of the park. The match-up of Boateng and Anthony Annan against the likely USA pairing of Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu will be one to watch.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He is also the author of 'Soccer's Most Wanted II: The Top 10 Book of More Glorious Goals, Superb Saves and Fantastic Free-Kicks'. He can be reached at email@example.com.