SAO PAULO – The United States’ 23-man contingent touched down at São Paulo Guarulhos airport early Monday morning, but head coach Jurgen Klinsmann wasn’t among the travel party.
Ghana concluded their pre-World Cup tune-ups against South Korea on Monday evening in Miami with a 4-0 rout over the Taeguk Warriors. Klinsmann, along with World Cup advisor Berti Vogts and scout Matthias Hamann, skipped out on the team’s first training session in Brazil to watch the Black Stars in person before hopping on an overnight flight.
In Klinsmann’s absence, assistants Tab Ramos and Andreas Herzog ran the US through a light session. But no matter the load, everything the team does between now and June 16 revolves around a single aim.
“Every training session we do now is going to be geared toward [Ghana], even tonight in the little bit we do,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “That’s the cool thing about getting down here. It’s all business now. We’re focused on how we’re going to beat Ghana.”
With Klinsmann, Vogts and Hamann – the latter of which were also in Rotterdam to watch Ghana take on the Netherlands on May 31 – fine-tuning the game plan, the players said their focus remains on working out the kinks in their own play ahead of the group opener.
Of course, that largely comes down to tactics and organization, as Klinsmann experimented with a 4-4-2 diamond midfield (against Azerbaijan and Turkey) that shifted back to a more conservative 4-2-3-1 against Nigeria in a 2-1 victory on Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla.
Despite three victories, the results were mixed, as a lack of established relationships on the field, especially in the midfield, and heavy legs led to lulls in cohesion and intensity. With two sessions on Tuesday, an open training session on Wednesday and a behind-closed-doors scrimmage vs. Belgium scheduled for Thursday, the US will now set about improving the foundation built during the Send Off Series.
“What we tried to do is implement what we’re going to try to do against Ghana in similar competition,” center back Geoff Cameron said. “Over these next few days, obviously we’re going to be tactically trying to break Ghana down and go over film and try to dissect what we can do to beat them.”
Those film sessions will be especially important considering only four players on the current roster – Howard, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore – played in the 2-1 knockout-stage loss to the Black Stars four years ago in South Africa.
DaMarcus Beasley was on the bench that day in Rustenburg, but it’s almost a given that at least three out of four starters on the backline (Fabian Johnson, Matt Besler, Cameron and either Beasley or Timmy Chandler) will have zero competitive experience against the team that’s been the US’ bugaboo at the past two World Cups.
“These ghosts that are supposed to have haunted us,” Howard said, “these guys don’t even remember those games.”
Whether that’s a positive or a negative is yet to be seen, but the US’ first night in São Paolo, where they’re ensconced in a five-star hotel downtown, will almost certainly be spent with the focus thousands of miles away in Miami.
“We’ll definitely be paying [Ghana-South Korea] a close eye,” forward Chris Wondolowski said. “We’ll have a whole film session on that as well, breaking it down even more.”