NATAL, Brazil -- The U.S. national team heads into its final group stage game against Germany with its destiny in its hands. Any kind of result will secure passage, while a loss will put the Americans at the mercy of others.
Naturally, the U.S. would prefer to take care of business itself, and as such, will need several players to deliver top-notch performances. Here are three the Americans will rely on to emerge from the Group of Death.
1. Michael Bradley
No player has garnered more attention over the first two games than Bradley, especially after Portugal equalized in the final minute of stoppage time on an attack that began with the U.S. midfielder losing possession.
But the concerns over Bradley's game go beyond just one sequence. While he has been far from the worst player on the field for the U.S., his play has been short of his usual lofty standards. Some of this is down to playing more of an attacking role that requires more risk-taking as opposed to playing as a holding midfielder, where keeping possession is the primary aim.
- Germany vs. USA, ESPN, Thursday: noon ET
- McIntyre: U.S. preps for special game vs. Germany
- Carlisle: U.S. midfielder Bradley at fault, but not to blame
- Honigstein: Germans don't have a word for draw
- Davis: Can '02 serve as a guide vs. Germany?
That said, Bradley will need to be more precise with his deliveries, especially in the attacking third, against a Germany team stocked with talented midfielders, including Philipp Lahm of Bayern Munich and Sami Khedira of Real Madrid.
Of course, the rest of the team will need to play well for Bradley to play well. When the U.S. breaks out of its own half, Clint Dempsey will need to hold the ball up and allow his teammates the time to join the attack. Bradley's play will also be critical here. If his passes find their intended targets, then the U.S. has a hope of playing the Germans on more level terms.
2. Fabian Johnson
In recent weeks, Johnson has emerged as a potent attacking weapon from his right back spot, and he absolutely laid waste to the left side of Portugal's defense last Sunday in Manaus. The Borussia Moenchengladbach defender has been timing his runs impeccably, and his service into the box has created plenty of havoc.
As such, Johnson would be a key player no matter who the U.S. was playing, but if there is one area where Germany is weak, it's in terms of its flank defenders. Benedikt Howedes is a central defender by trade, but he has been forced to play left back due to injuries that have forced Germany manager Joachim Low to juggle his lineup. And he didn't look 100 percent comfortable dealing with the Ghanaian duo of Christian Atsu and Harrison Afful. If Johnson can consistently threaten on the right wing, that might force one of Toni Kroos or Mario Gotze to defend more than they'd like.
Of course, the opposite may end up happening, and in that case, Johnson will need to remember that he is a defender first against Gotze and the rest of Germany's attack. But the U.S. will no doubt be hoping that Johnson can be influential on both sides of the ball.
3. Geoff Cameron
Soccer is often a game of mistakes. Against Ghana, Cameron was impeccable with his defending, making countless clearances both in the air and on the ground. And while he delivered the same for long stretches against Portugal, two errors on the part of Cameron proved critical, with his shanked clearance leading to Nani's opener, and his failure to track Silvestre Varela enabling the Portugal attacker to nod home a late equalizer.
Consistency has long been an issue for Cameron when suiting up for the national team, especially when playing in the back. The question now is, which Cameron will show up, the dominant presence against Ghana, or the mistake-prone player seen against Portugal?
Clearly, the U.S. will need the Ghana version to be present. This will not be easy as Germany's attack is the most potent of the Americans' three group stage opponents. The movement of attackers like Gotze, Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil, and even players like Kroos coming out of midfield can turn the most organized defense into a pretzel. If Miroslav Klose gets the nod, either from the start or off the bench, he will be a force to contend with, as well.
It demands that Cameron and the rest of his back-line mates be at their best and play mistake-free soccer.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.