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When Christian Pulisic opened the scoring with a brilliant goal in the 29th minute of the game against Germany at the weekend, fans of the USMNT dared to dream of a famous victory over the four-time world champions.
In the end, however, it was not to be. Ilkay Gundogan restored parity shortly before half-time, while two quick-fire goals from Nicklas Fullkrug and Jamal Musiala around the hour mark put Germany in control of proceedings.
It was the first loss of Gregg Berhalter’s second spell in charge of the national team after his reappointment in the summer. The result was something of a reality check for the co-hosts of World Cup 2026, a tournament towards which the USA have already begun building.
"It's really these fine moments, these split seconds where you need to be well-positioned, not open up any gaps in your backline, and that's where it went wrong," Berhalter said after the game.
That much was true, but this was also a reminder that the USA still have work to do if they want to reach the latter stages of the first 48-team World Cup in three years’ time.
Despite the disappointment of the result, being able to face Germany was a fantastic opportunity for Berhalter, his staff, and the American players. The USA spend most of their time taking on other teams from CONCACAF, so any chance to do battle with teams from outside the region is invaluable.
That will be the case again on Tuesday when Ghana will provide the opposition at Geodis Park. Unlike the Germany game, in which the USA were always going to be the underdogs with the best online sportsbooks, this is a game from which Berhalter will be earmarking a win.
The USA will compete in the Copa America next summer, while the next edition of the Gold Cup is scheduled for 2025 and there is another CONCACAF Nations League on the horizon too. But all of those tournaments are in effect part of the preparation for the next World Cup.
Ghana, conversely, are not looking so far ahead. The Africa Cup of Nations returns at the start of next year and the Black Stars are one of several sides hoping to lift the trophy, something they have only done in the past.
Ghana eliminated a more fancied Nigeria in the qualification play-offs for World Cup 2022, before falling short of reaching the knockout phase after defeats by Portugal and Uruguay canceled out a victory over South Korea.
Otto Addo was the leader of the national team for the competition in Qatar, but he was never likely to be in that position on a permanent basis. Chris Hughton, formerly the technical advisor and ex-Premier League manager, became head coach in February.
Results have been mixed since then, though. Although Ghana beat the Central African Republic and Liberia in September, they drew with both Angola and Madagascar previously. On Saturday, meanwhile, they were comfortably beaten 2-0 by Mexico, failing even to land a shot on target.
It was a poor performance from the Black Stars, who never got going at the Bank of America Stadium. Hughton will be looking for a much-improved display against the USA this midweek.
The USMNT have won the last two meetings between these two sides, triumphing at World Cup 2014 and in a friendly held in 2017. Ghana still lead the overall head-to-head record 3-2, but the USA will fancy their chances of leveling things up here.
That is not to say things will be easy. Ghana also have a recent loss from which they will be keen to bounce back. Home advantage could be a factor, but the Black Stars have had time to acclimatize to North America in recent days.
Rather than betting the moneyline, then, choose both teams to score instead. True, anyone who watched the match against Mexico might argue that Ghana are unlikely to find the back of the net in this one.
But they can hardly be so unproductive in attack for a second game running, and as Berhalter alluded to the USA were hardly watertight at the back in that defeat by Germany, who could have scored even more than three goals.
Remember, too, that both Berhalter and Hughton may use this friendly match as a chance to experiment. Even if both managers name their strongest XIs from the first whistle, we are likely to see a number of changes as the game wears on.
That could come at the expense of defensive cohesion, and fresh attacking legs could pounce in the second half. In other words, there should be enough opportunities for both the USA and Ghana to find the back of the net in this one.
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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