By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Oct 12, 2023) US Soccer Players – The United States finds itself in a rare position during this October international window. Not only does it face two top-tier opponents over the course of a few days, but the team is also doing so at home. The USMNT starts things off against Germany on Saturday at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford. On Monday, the squad travels south to play Ghana at Geodis Park in Nashville.
Germany, ranked 15th by FIFA after a disappointing 2-4-1 run since the 2022 World Cup, has a new coach. Julian Nagelsmann replaced Hansi Flick following last month’s 4-1 loss to Japan. Strikingly, it’s the first time in the program’s history that a head coach has been fired, dating back to 1926. It came just nine months before Germany hosts the 2024 European Championship.
Nagelsmann is tasked not only with preparing for the Euros, but also lifting the spirits of a team that has been eliminated from the group stage of the last two World Cups, including last year in Qatar. The former Bayern Munich coach is known for an up-tempo pressing style and generally prefers a 4-2-3-1 tactical formation.
“If you want a headline, we need a good, healthy aggression towards the opposition goal,” Nagelsmann told reporters last month at the German Federation’s headquarters in Frankfurt. “Especially against deep-lying opposition, we need to show the necessary presence in the opposition box, we need to stress the opposition, it needs to be painful to play against us.”
The US holds a 4-7-0 record against Germany. The four-time World Cup champions has a star-studded roster that includes veteran defender Mats Hummels, midfielder Leon Goretzka and the Bayern attacking duo of Thomas Muller and Leroy Sane. Hummels, a teammate of Gio Reyna at Borussia Dortmund, had never been called up by Flick, who took over from Joachim Low after Germany was knocked out of the Euros in 2021.
Other notable callups for Germany’s US tour include Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Real Madrid defender Antonio Rudiger, and Bayern striker Joshua Kimmich. As a result, the USMNT can expect what Nagelsmann has called “attractive football.”
“We’re not going to overcomplicate things,” he added. “A positive atmosphere is important, but it requires a good plan, which can’t be as complex as in club football because we simply don’t have the same amount of time to study it.”
USMNT defender Joe Scally, who joined Bundesliga side Borussia Monchengladbach at the end of the 2020 MLS season, told reporters this week that Germany is “definitely a good team.”
“I think we all know they are a world-class team,” Scally said. “We know they have players who play in all the best leagues in Europe. I think they did go through a difficult period at the World Cup and now after, but they have a new coach and new ideas.”
Scally is one of nine players on the current US roster who have either played or play in the Bundesliga, said that it’s always “a learning process” for the US when they play top opposition. “It would obviously be an amazing feeling to win this game,” he added. Fellow US defender Chris Richards agreed, saying, “I don’t think anybody looks on the schedule, sees Germany and thinks it’s going be an easy win.” Richards came through Bayern’s youth system and played for Nagelsmann before moving to Crystal Palace last summer.
“Having played in Germany for four years, you kind of tend to learn the German mentality: They’re all work, no play,” said Richards. “So we expect a game like that this weekend and we’re really looking forward to winning.”
While most European countries are busy during this window with Euro 2024 qualifiers, Die Mannschaft are in need of competitive games because they have automatically reached the finals as hosts. Nonetheless, it hasn’t been easy for the US to play teams from outside their region. The German FA, for example, received criticism from several Bundesliga clubs for scheduling the friendly (and another against Mexico in Philadelphia on Tuesday) so far away from home during the club season.
At the same time, Gregg Berhalter’s side gets a chance to test themselves at home at a time when so many of their European-based players – most notably Christian Pulisic, Yunus Musah, Folarin Balogun, and Weston McKennie – are off to a very strong start in their club campaigns.
On Tuesday, the US meets Ghana, a team that’s preparing for this January’s Africa Cup of Nations. Like Germany, the West African nation is an interesting test for the Americans. The US has played Ghana four times. The series is evenly split with each side collecting two wins each. Three of the four meetings have taken place at past World Cups, with the Black Stars eliminating the Yanks from the 2006 and 2010 World Cups before the USMNT struck back with a key win in both sides’ opening match of Brazil 2014.
Ghana coach Chris Hughton usually plays a 3-4-3 and called up a 23-player roster for this window. Brighton & Hove Albion defender Tariq Lamptey remains sidelined from national team duty following a strong start to the Premier League season. Lamptey has not played for the Black Stars in six months due to a series of injuries. Players to watch for in the current camp include a pair of La Liga stars in center back Joseph Aidoo, who plays alongside Luca de la Torre at Celta Vigo, and striker Inaki Williams, a standout at Athletic.
Ghana faces Mexico on Saturday in Charlotte before playing the US and plans to use these friendlies to test players. “In international football, you don’t have the players for very long and the squad could change from one player to the next,” Hughton said during a news conference last month on the challenges he faces as coach. “But you do the best you can in the period of time that you have.”
Photo by Howard Smith – ISIPhotos.com