USA's newly formed back line eagerly awaiting first World Cup match
NATAL, Brazil -- The time for talking is over.
After months of scrutiny, the moment of truth for the heavily scrutinized American back line will finally arrive here on Monday, against Ghana, in a game the U.S. has long identified as a must-win.
And if they are to get those all-important three points, the Yanks' projected starting defenders -- who have played together just twice heading into the opener -- will have to contain a potent, lightning-quick Black Stars offense that is among the most talented at this World Cup. Not even they can be sure that they're ready. "It gets better every day," Matt Besler said Friday of the continuing crash course in chemistry with fellow central defender Geoff Cameron, right-back Fabian Johnson and lefty DaMarcus Beasley, the foursome expected to be in U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann's lineup for Monday's match (6 p.m. ET, ESPN/WatchESPN).
Despite the quartet's lack of reps, and despite the oft-repeated fact that not one of them has ever played a minute as a defender at a World Cup (Beasley, the lone Cup vet, was a midfielder at the last three tournaments), reason for optimism remains.
After all, it's not like these are some wide-eyed rookies. Besler has been the Americans' most consistent defender for the better part of a year. Cameron is a proven performer in the Premier League. Klinsmann believes Bundesliga standout Johnson is "one of the best full-backs in Europe." And if Beasley starts, as it appears he will, it will be because he beat out Timmy Chandler -- who also plays in Germany's top flight -- for the spot.
"I think we have more athleticism and more pace," keeper Tim Howard said when asked to compare that group to the one that surrendered five goals in four games four years ago in South Africa. "That's going to be important to deal with Ghana."
They passed a stern test in last week's dry run against African champ Nigeria in the Yanks' final send-off match -- "I think we took a big step in that game," Besler said -- but most believe that the Ghanaians, led by speedy and skilled attackers Kwadwo Asamoah, Jordan Ayew and captain Asamoah Gyan -- the latter who tortured the U.S. in 2010 -- pose an even greater threat.
That's at least part of the reason Klinsmann made pace and two-way play a focal point of this roster, particularly at the two full-back spots. "If you look at our wing-backs, they can get forward," Besler said. "That's part of the game plan."
So is giving the defenders as much support as possible. Stay-at-home midfielder Kyle Beckerman will provide an extra layer of protection in front as their "safety blanket," according to Besler. Behind them, goalkeeper Tim Howard's constant communication will be crucial to make sure the hodgepodge foursome stays on the same page.
"I tell him I never want him to stop talking," Besler said. "Even if I know what to do, I want him telling me."
For a group still learning on the fly, as the biggest game of their lives approaches, they'll take all the help they can get. "Maybe mistakes [will] happen," midfielder Jermaine Jones said when asked how he's seen the back line coming together in the lead-up to the match. "But we know we can be a tough team who sticks together.
"You have to trust them."
And trust also that their time is now.