Of the three Aston Villa representatives at the 2014 World Cup, Brad Guzan's likely role is the clearest. While Ron Vlaar didn't enter the tournament as a clear-cut starter and Philippe Senderos' part to play for Switzerland is anyone's guess, Tim Howard getting the nod for the United States is as safe a prediction as Lionel Messi starting for Argentina. For many Villa fans, it's something of a puzzling decision; having witnessed Guzan's many jaw-dropping performances over the past few years and being at least aware in passing of Howard's decline from world-class goalkeeper to "merely" very good over the same period of time, that there isn't even a hint of controversy surrounding Jurgen Klinsmann's #1 seems rather in odd.
From the American perspective, however, it makes a great deal more sense; the job is Howard's to lose, and as of yet he hasn't done anything to merit a demotion. The US has produced some very good 'keepers in the post-1994 "modern era" of American soccer, but Howard stands alone as the best of the bunch. Along with Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey he's the defining face of his generation of the US men's team, and though there's a persuasive case to be made that Guzan is better at this point, the gap is not so wide as to make the benching of one of the very few American soccer legends an easy decision.
So then, barring injury, Brad Guzan will likely have to wait until 2016 to make his World Cup debut. But as long as we're here, let's talk about the rest of the team. Jurgen Klinsmann took over the job from Bob Bradley just shy of three years ago, following a long-and at times painful-pursuit by the United States Soccer Federation. He immediately promised big changes both at the senior level and to the overall top-down structure, and though it's far too early to see whether or not he will fundamentally change American soccer, he's clearly made an impact on the team that will take to the pitch in Brazil.
Bob Bradley's US teams were exceptionally well organized, athletic, and disciplined; they were not very refined in attack or prone to flair. Klinsmann's team isn't going to be mistaken for Argentina any time soon, but they're a very different beast than Bradley's; they get forward, they press hard, and at times they play a style that can almost be described as attractive. It will take another cycle or two for the US player pool to progress technically to the point that they can reliably play the kind of fluid system Klinsmann seems to be trying to implement (even they ever do, which is very far from a settled question) but they've evolved enough to look fundamentally different than any US team in history. And given their results in qualifying and friendlies over the past year or so, it's reasonable to think this may be the best US team in history.
Unfortunately for the US, the World Cup draw cared very little for their evolution as a footballing nation. Being placed in a group with Germany and Portugal is bad enough, but the Americans will also be forced to deal with Ghana, their own personal tormentors that have sent them packing from two consecutive World Cups. And though the Black Stars won't be able to officially eliminate the US this time around, any result but a win for the Americans is all but lights out.
Ghana enter the game ranked 24 spots being the US at 37th, which is yet another reminder that FIFA's ranking are laughably bad. There isn't much between these two sides at all, and if anything Ghana should likely be favored. There's little if any question that they're the more talented side, sporting names such as Kevin-Prince Boateng, Kwadwo Asamoah, Andre Ayew, Michael Essien, and Asamoah Gyan. Ghana is a potent attacking team, and they're almost certain to give a shaky American backline all they can handle.
But while the Americans don't have the name recognition, they pack quite the punch in their own right. Michael Bradley is the man in the middle that makes everything tick for the Americans, the former Villan (thanks Eck) playing the regista role to perfection and making everyone else around him much better in the process. Clint Dempsey, looking absolutely reborn after being given the freedom to express himself in MLS that he claims he was never afforded in England, is the creative engine of the American attack. Graham Zusi has been one of the best players in MLS for several years but is little known outside of his home country; there's a very good chance that could change this summer.
The question mark for the Americans is Jozy Altidore. Not as bad as most English football fans might assume following a disaster of a season at Sunderland but not as good as the buckets of goals he scored in the Eredivisie might have suggested, Altidore must come through for the Americans to have any chance of moving past the Black Stars. Ghana's back line is by far their biggest weakness and makes this a far more even match than their superior star power might suggest. But if Altidore lacks confidence he lacks quality, and he looks far more like the player he was for Sunderland than the player he's been for the national team this summer.
This game likely determines how much the remainder of Group G's games really matter; barring an unexpectedly poor showing from Portugal or Germany, a draw in this match eliminates any real hope of advancing for both Ghana and the US. Though Villa fans will likely be disappointed not to see Brad Guzan represent the club at the World Cup, there's still every reason to tune in.