The US national team has beaten Germany before – just last summer, as a matter of fact. It was a friendly, and it was on home soil, but the scoreline was 4-3 to the good guys.
They've outplayed the Germans, too. And that one was in the actual World Cup, way back in 2002 when the US were, on balance, the better team in what turned out to be a gut-wrenching 1-0 loss thanks to a Michael Ballack header and a Hugh Dallas whistle that never was.
And they've done both at the same time, back in 1999 when Bruce Arena took a US "B" team into the Confederations Cup and laid a 2-0 hurting on their German counterparts.
So anybody who says the US has no prayer in Thursday's Group G clash (12 pm ET, ESPN) is both ignorant overall and ignorant of soccer history specifically.
The US can win. Here's how:
1. Pop the central defenders out of place
This generation of Germans defend the ball better than they defend the goal. By that I mean they're at their least vulnerable when in possession; they don't make the simple mistakes that plague other teams (including the US), and are generally at their most comfortable when controlling both the pace of the game and where on the field it's played.
Ok – so they're not perfect in possession (that goal above is off a sloppy turnover from Philipp Lahm). But generally speaking, Germany are better off protecting the ball than they are tracking runners through space. Any team that plays them should want to hold the ball deep, pull the fullbacks up the pitch, overload one side of the field and make the German central defense step out of their comfort zone and try to defend higher up the field.
Once they're higher up the field, neither Mats Hummels nor Per Mertesacker is particularly good in the open field, or mobile enough to track defenders coming at angles. The goal that Fabian Johnson scored for the US vs. Turkey is a great example of the kind of movement any backline has trouble dealing with, Germany included.
2. Get around the fullbacks
OK, so Germany aren't holding their discipline, defending in pairs and triangles and not taking the bait when you try to pop their central defense out of shape. What then?
The answer is "punish their fullbacks."
Both the German and Ghanaian goals came from mistakes by fullbacks. You cannot let your man get in front of you. #WorldCup2014— Srivats V (@srivatsv) June 21, 2014
For some reason, German head coach Jogi Löw has decided to play four central defenders across the backline. He's justified it in various ways, but it just doesn't seem to provide the type of rock-solid defense that natural fullbacks have given this team in the past. They're not soft – Jerome Boateng and Benedikt Howedes can never be called that – but they struggle to shut down attackers 1-v-1, lack lateral quickness to a certain extent, and have real trouble preventing service from the flanks.
3. Lock it down on set pieces
I want to return to that game in 2002, which is still the best single game I've ever seen the USMNT play. They were untrackable in transition, eventually driving the Germans deep into their own end and forcing a series of spectacular saves from Olivier Kahn. Landon Donovan on the break after a ball into space from Claudio Reyna, or off a Brian McBride flick-on.
Frankie Hejduk up one wing, or Tony Sanneh advancing up the other. Clint Mathis comes in and dances alongside the edge of the box before chipping perfect service to the back post. Reyna trying his luck – and missing by a yard – from midfield on the full volley.
It was beautiful anarchy. All Germany could do was weather the storm and count on Kahn's brilliance. And then ruin it all for us on a set piece.
No matter how "beautiful" the Germans play, they are still the Germans. They will destroy you on set pieces if you give them half an inch – which is exactly what happned 12 years ago.
Lightning can strike twice, especially on restarts. And those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.
Let's hope Jurgen Klinsmann & Co. have done their research. A trip to the knockout round could depend upon it.