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Pure Sole: Math favors USA

Posted: June 26, 2014 - 12:12am

Finally, the United States has achieved the unthinkable… we are on par with China now!

I have been told the math favors the U.S. World Cup team.

We got smarts!

However, I do believe it means that, mathematically, the U.S. has a good chance of making it to the Round of 16 in World Cup play.

Math is not my strong point.

When I was asked how the football world championship could be in the hands of a United States team, I of course answered that the ball was in the hands of Russell Wilson.

Yes, the 12th Man played a role, too, but those Seahawks were phenomenal.

Then, of course, I was corrected that it was Futbol they had asked me about, not Football.

It seems we play Germany today on a Brazilian soccer pitch.

Local soccer coaches put me in my place quickly, plus gave insightful opinions as to how the Stars & Stripes can make it out of the group stage.

“Don’t let them score,” Thunder Mountain girls soccer coach Kris Coffee said. “Germany has some really tough offensive threats. The U.S. really has to play good defense… and get lucky. If the U.S. can hold on to a tie, they will be lucky.”

Coffee favors the Netherlands as the eventual World Cup champs, defeating Germany or Brazil.

“The way that (Robin) van Persie and (Arjen) Robben have been playing, they are amazing,” Coffee said. “They are very good. The team looks solid.”

Juneau-Douglas girls soccer coach Matt Dusenberry chuckled and said, “Ask Jurgen Klinsmann. That is a tough task. Germany is, if you want to use a cliché, a well-oiled machine, particularly for these types of events. They are good at set pieces, are very strong physically and very strong mentally. Hopefully our athleticism and in tournaments like this, you need a little bit of luck. Maybe that is what happens.”

Before the tournament even started, the national soccer pundits were asking what the U.S. needs to do to advance.

They answered themselves that advancement required a win against Ghana or Portugal and a tie in one of the other matches.

Well, the U.S. beat Ghana 2-1 and tied Portugal 2-2.

They have four group points with a win and a tie, as does Germany.

Group members Ghana and Portugal both have a loss and a tie and one group point.

So the U.S. advances with a win or tie. If they lose they can still get through as long as they don’t lose big (possibly 2 or more goals) and Ghana doesn’t win big (2 or more), as the U.S. has a point differential of +1 and Ghana -1.

“I think worst case is that Germany scores a bunch of points,” Dusenberry said. “Then we are in trouble. Then Ghana or Portugal could make up the differential.”

Dusenberry likes France, Netherlands, Argentina, Germany and Brazil.

“It is always team first with Germany,” Dusenberry said. “In an event like that the physical and mental demands are great.”

JDHS boys coach Gary Lehnhart was born in the city of Campinas, in the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil, and lived there until age 3.

“So I have always been a huge fan of Brazil for that reason,” Lehnhart said. “Obviously the U.S. would be my first choice but I think Brazil will win the cup. Belgium is very good, too,and could surprise people, Mexico could do well, too.”

The physical Germans stand in the way right now.

“Well, we are not going to possess with them,” Lehnhart said. “So that would essentially suggest we would use a counter attack approach and that is often what happens when you are outmanned. You make sure you get enough guys behind the ball and beat them back. That would be the obvious thing that we would try.”

When Portugal led against the U.S. and went into a shell, the U.S. actually out possessed Portugal.

“A lot of times the games will take on a life of their own,” Lehnhart said. “Depending on the score and these games are always a little odd. Everybody starts watching the scoreboard and it becomes almost like a game of Texas Hold’em and playing the odds to win. I could see some strange things happening.”

Lehnhart described why current World Cup group games are played at the same time, relating back to a past world cup match in 1982 between Germany and Austria. Knowing ahead of time that a 1-0 German win would qualify both nations to the knockout stage, the teams did just that. Germany won 1-0 (a goal that was scored after just 10 minutes) and as a result eliminated Algeria. Not another shot was put on goal.

Having the games at the same time also adds to the drama.

“As the game progresses, if for instance Portugal gets a lead in the other game, that is going to affect our game a lot,” Lehnhart said. “If Ghana jumps out ahead and eats up that goal differential than that affects it also. It is hard to predict what will happen but I am sure the U.S. will start with a counter attacking approach. We will try and make sure we do not give up goals. If we keep the game within a goal our chances are pretty good. The minute the game goes to a 2-goal difference in Germanys favor than we are asking for trouble and relying on Portugal. I think we will play a system that allows ourselves to have more players back.”

The difference between the group stage and the next rounds is that the draw is now out.

Potentially a team plays a 90-minute match (plus some stoppage time, give or take) and, if tied, they play 30 minutes of extra time regardless if anyone scores, switching ends of the field after 15 minutes.

And then, if still knotted, we begin the penalty kick option.

Five players on one team alternate shots with five players on the opposing team at each other’s goalkeepers in front of a voracious standing crowd ready to kiss their players to death or rip their players hair out.

Throw in the fact that players have already been cramping in the Brazilian heat and soccer fans are witnessing one of the most physical tests of human endurance.

The average soccer player runs 6-8 miles per match. When not running they sprint.

The average fan paints 75 percent of their body in favorite team colors.

Less than one-percent of World Cup players bite their opponents.

This is just a few numbers.

Mathematically, the U.S. has a chance.

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