Germany team captain Michael Ballack was ruled out of the 2010 World Cup today after test results came back revealing a severe ankle injury suffered by the central mid in Saturday’s FA Cup final. Ballack famously scored against the USMNT to knock the Yanks out of the 2002 World Cup, but he’s by all accounts a good guy worthy of us feeling sorry for him. But indulge me for a few minutes here and step into my world; a world devoid of human emotion concerning anything other than the people and things that I personally care about. Since we all have a common interest, let’s assess. What the hell does Ballack being ruled out of the World Cup mean to U.S. Soccer?
The answer: Potentially a lot.
This isn’t an injury of the mouth-watering variety like we thought we were dealing with last week. Visions of John Terry and his bum foot relegated to the sidelines had Yanks fans mentally jotting Jozy down for the never before seen one-game golden boot, but alas, JT will play and Altidore will not be allowed to slot seven goals past a mediocre English keeper on June 12th. As I said, this doesn’t quite satiate the American soccer soul, and what follows is especially speculative since both Germany and the U.S. have to complete some prerequisites before they can even think about getting stuck-in in either Bloemfontein or Rustenburg (again). But we can think about it.
Post Group Play… let’s hope we get there: As the educated guesser might tell you, Germany and the United States will probably finish first and second respectively in their respective groups. Throw a wrench into the plot line and it’s possible that both finish first, both finish second, or they flip flop with the U.S. taking Group C and the Germans finishing second best in Group D. Either result in which both teams get through but don’t finish in the same spot would pit them head-to-head in the first knockout round.
This game represents a scary proposition for the Yanks. From what I’ve heard the Germans are generally pretty good at soccer with props to Playstation for confirming this. In all seriousness though, the injury to Ballack changes how that game will be played, and it’s not good news for Deutchland. The Germans are the type of team that would likely dominate the current incarnation of the USMNT with respect to ball possession, and in turn use that ball possession along with their speed and skill (not an immense amount of creativity) to generate scoring chance after scoring chance. But the German wingers are as much wing forwards as they are side midfielders, guys like Podolski and Schweinsteiger need to push forward to be effective. So the crux of the ball possession clinic that the Germans like to run has to lie in the central midfield. The offense is predicated on the center mids conducting the show, or at least making the first pass that dictates the rest of the attack.
Now the team’s most talented and senior center mid is out. To make matters worse for the Germans, former national team mainstay Torsten Frings was left off Joachim Loew’s preliminary roster. Frings was Ballack’s constant midfield partner with team Germany, and he’ll probably be recalled now due to the injury, but you have to wonder how far his form has slipped if he wasn’t even named to the 30-man squad.
So how does the possible USA v. Germany match-up look now? Well it’s not massively tilted in our favor or anything, but it’s a lot less scary of a proposition. Frings initially being left off the roster also says that Loew is confident in the younger guys behind Ballack on the depth chart, but while those guys probably won’t be paralyzed with fear and take massive dumps on the World Cup pitch, they’re not going to be Michael Ballack either. The U.S. is still not going to win the possession battle in this match, but with no Ballack, they’ll see more of the ball and have more opportunities to mount an attack. We’ve got a shot now, and I’m going to start being thankful for that just as soon as we advance out of group play.
Jon Levy is a senior writer and managing editor for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @TYAC_Jon.