BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Chicago Fire target forward and Arlington Heights, Ill., native Brian McBride and midfielder Patrick Nyarko have some added interest in the 2010 FIFA World Cup when the U.S. takes on Ghana this Saturday.
McBride was on the 2006 U.S. squad that fell to Ghana, 2-1, and was eliminated from the Cup. He played in the full match and had a diving header that hit the post. Nyarko is a native of Ghana, and he knows he is in the minority among the fandom surrounding him in the Fire clubhouse.
"I'm remaining quiet right now because there are a lot of Americans in the locker room," Nyarko said. "I'm not talking that much. Come Saturday ... I don't know if we're going to watch it either because we're traveling. But I'll be cheering for Ghana."
McBride was on the wrong end of the last World Cup result against Ghana, but this year's rematch is much different. Both teams have advanced past the group stage, with the U.S. winning Group C and Ghana taking the runner-up position behind Germany in Group D.
"When you play in an elimination round, anything can happen," McBride said. "So you have that extra bit of excitement. I think there's a bit more tension, knowing that every possible mistake you could make could affect the outcome. It gets you more focused, and you get more excited because of the possibilities."
On Wednesday, Landon Donovan had a storybook ending during the U.S.'s 1-0 win over Algeria -- a second-half stoppage time tally that sent U.S. fans, area sports pubs, workplaces and households into a frenzy. The Americans went from nearly going home to winning their group in an instant classic finish.
"My wife and I were sitting on the couch, I raced home from [Fire] training of course and got there late," McBride said. "So I had to catch up through the tape. Finally at the 70th-minute mark I was fully caught up. We were just sitting on the edge of our seats. When [Donovan's shot] went in, I jumped up, ran around the couch yelling, my wife screaming."
Nyarko's satisfaction with Ghana was much more subdued. He believes his homeland has more room for improvement.
"I think we're better than that," Nyarko said. "We had a chance to win the group and had a chance of winning all three games, actually. In the Australia game, we just couldn't put it away, and we had a couple chances against Germany [on Wednesday] and just couldn't finish. Hopefully we start fresh. There is no room for error in the knockout round, and hopefully the boys can respond."
Nyarko predicts a 2-1 Ghana victory over the U.S.
One person Nyarko particularly is tracking is a buddy of his -- Kwadwo Asamoah. They played club ball together about five years ago before Nyarko headed to the U.S. to play for Virginia Tech.
"They've been using him on the left wing, but I think he's more dangerous behind the striker," Nyarko said of Asamoah. "I think he's a very good player. He can open up any defense. ... I'm just proud of him for the jump he's made the past couple of years. I hope he'll continue doing well. Hopefully I'll have a chance to play with him again.""
On the flip side of the ball, Nyarko has been impressed with Ghana's defense.
"I think our back line is our strength, all though qualifiers and up to this point," Nyarko said. "We can turn defense into offense any time we want. Hopefully we'll have our mentality right for Saturday. The Americans have the strongest mentality I've seen in this tournament. We've got to match that."
For as many missed chances as the U.S. has had through these three matches, the Americans' mental focus and team unity have been the resounding characteristics thus far as they hope to continue the growth of this sport in the U.S. at so many levels.
"It speaks volumes for them and how much work they've put in," McBride said. "I'm just like you guys. In fact, I'm probably further away from it. You guys are writing about it and have to see the ins and outs. The great thing about it now is I can be a fan. I'm not analyzing certain situations. We're not in team talks. The bad thing is the nerves are 100 times more because you can't do anything about it.
"It's the World Cup -- everything's magnified," McBride said. "When you do well, that magnification probably overextends what actually is the value of it. But when you don't do well, it goes the opposite [direction]. People start talking about how it hurts U.S. soccer, blah, blah, blah. ... As far as soccer growing and what [Wednesday's win] does for soccer in a general sense, I think it does immense things."