In an online chat with fans Friday, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann reiterated the importance of a win vs. Ghana in the World Cup opener as being critical to the Americans' chances of advancing to the knockout rounds.
While a tie or loss wouldn't necessarily be fatal to the Americans’ ability to advance, the Ghana match -- set to take place in Natal on June 16 -- will be followed by games against Portugal on June 22 in Manaus, and Germany on June 26 in Recife.
Given the pedigree of those last two opponents, the pressure will be on the U.S. take three points from a Ghana side that has knocked the U.S. out of the last two World Cups.
And it explains why Klinsmann, speaking at a Google Hangout held on Friday by the U.S. Soccer Federation, is putting so much focus on the Black Stars.
"We basically start with a World Cup final against Ghana," he said. "We need badly these three points. If we get three points against Ghana, I think then that the confidence will rise, the guys will be pumped up, and they will be ready for Portugal and give them a real fight."
First, Klinsmann will have to finalize his 23-man World Cup roster, a task that is set to continue next Wednesday when the U.S. takes on Ukraine in a friendly on March 5 in Cyprus.
The U.S. manager said the process involves some challenging choices. FIFA's deadline for 30-man provisional rosters is May 12. The final 23-man roster must be submitted by June 2, although the U.S. is free to name its final squad prior to that date.
"You review all of the strengths and weaknesses of all players," he said. "You look at what you want to see from the entire team. You look at chemistry components. You look at is [a player] a giver or a taker. Definitely, on top of all the criteria is the quality of the player. You want to have a lot of good quality in there.
"There will definitely be tough decisions, tough moments because there are 50/50 situations, and you have to make the decision, you have to make the call. There will be some upsets; some players will be left out. That is just part of it."
Klinsmann added that a critical component to getting a victory against Ghana will be the team’s preparation. The U.S. players will get together starting in mid-May, in Stanford, Calif. for a pre-World Cup training camp. After spending several weeks in California, the team will have three send-off games against opponents that still have yet to be finalized. Then it’s on to Brazil and the Ghana game.
"It’s almost like a six-pointer game [with] Ghana, and that’s what we’re preparing for," he said. "When we go into camp, middle of May, we’re going to prepare them for this game in the sharpest and most intense way possible. When we step on the field there, Ghana will sense the energy we have, will sense that we are mentally and physically ready for them, and hopefully they realize it’s going to be our day…It really is down to winning that first game." If the U.S. is successful in that match, it will give them a solid platform upon which to build in its two remaining group games.
"Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo, and Germany with their team, they are probably [favored]," he said. "But it doesn’t really kind of really threaten us. It doesn’t really kind of make us feel underdogs, by no means because we know that on a God-given day, if everything is going well with us, we have a damn good team. That’s what we’re doing to then, but we need to get off to a good start against Ghana."