SAO PAULO (USA TODAY) -- One point against Germany is enough to send the United States on to the second round of the World Cup. Therein lies the struggle of Thursday's match in Recife.
Conventional wisdom might tell the U.S. to play conservatively for 90 minutes and put a team of 11 defenders out on the field. Common sense might tell the U.S. that Germany only needs a draw to advance out of the group as well, so playing this defensive brand would almost certainly work.
Conventional wisdom is wrong.
1. The U.S. doesn't know how to defend a draw.
If there is one thing we know about this American team, it's that they are incapable of hunkering down in defense for 90 minutes. The most recent example of this was against Ghana, where for 80 minutes the U.S. attempted to do just that. Absorb pressure, deflect crosses, save the occasional shot, and try to counter when possible.
Eventually, Ghana did score, and when that happened, the U.S. wasn't prepared to counter back. It managed to steal a goal back off an unlikely corner kick, and while it made for a great narrative, everyone watching in Natal and around the world knew the U.S. was fortunate to walk away from its first match with three points.
That's why we saw coach Jurgen Klinsmann go to a much more open style against Portugal. Removing one striker in favor of an additional midfielder which allowed the U.S. to attack Portugal's flanks with numbers. It was on the flanks where DeAndre Yedlin and Graham Zusi created the U.S.'s second goal.
2. Germany's tactics don't allow for many counterattacks.
There is no secret to what Germany will play, since Germany has played the same 4-2-3-1 formation for over a decade. Expect four defenders along with Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira to sit in and eliminate any threats when possession changes.
Even if Klinsmann wanted to play for the counterattack, Jozy Altidore will not be fit for Thursday, and with Altidore goes any plan to counter with a lone striker. Chris Wondolowski and Aron Johannsson are both dangerous strikers, but they don't have the speed nor the physicality to play Altidore's counterattacking brand.
The U.S. is much better served employing a similar style to the one it played against Portugal. Rely on the flank play and the skill of players like Zusi, Johnson, and Alejandro Bedoya to exploit the space in wide channels.
3. The U.S. will face its greatest test defensively, but …
There will be great opportunities going forward as a result of Germany's style on offense. Germany plays with one striker (Miroslav Klose or Mario Gotze) and then three players underneath: Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil, and Lukas Podolski.
Those three attacking players will look to slip in between the space created by the two U.S. defensive center midfielders and centerbacks. This style of play will create problems for Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones, but it will leave spaces open on the flanks for Bedoya and Zusi when the U.S. recovers possession.
Ghana was able to exploit those open gaps well in its 2-2 draw with Germany last week, and in doing so, gave the U.S. an ideal case study for how to handle the Germans.
The U.S. will win the Group of Death.
The U.S. doesn't have any other option, really. A draw is not in the team's nature. The tie against Portugal came as a result of poor defending, not calculated tactics. Klinsmann has built a team that fights and isn't accustomed to sitting back and playing safe. The U.S. is at its best going forward and defending in its opponent's half of the field.
It won't sit back, it won't be defensive, and it won't play for a draw. The nature of the team is to attack, and it's the only way the U.S. will escape the Group of Death.