[BRAZIL 2014] Thanks to the 2-2 tie between Germany and Ghana, the USA finds itself in a position to clinch a berth in the round of 16 after just two games with a win over Portugal on Sunday in Manaus. The playing conditions in the Amazon heat and humidity will be brutal, but the situation is as good as the USA will ever get for a win against Portugal. Assuming it can generate more offense than it did against Ghana and contain Cristiano Ronaldo. Two big assumptions.
1. BEST DEFENSE IS GOOD OFFENSE. Almost three years into Jurgen Klinsmann's reign as national team coach, the USA is not going to win any style contest, but Klinsmann still insists on his players dictating the tempo. Easier said than done. But against a vulnerable Portuguese backline that is missing two starters and has concerns about the availability of a third (Bruno Alves),the USA's best defense will be a good offense.
The Americans have two things going against them, though. It has no Jozy Altidore up front, and Clint Dempsey has a broken nose that may limit him in the heat and humidity of Manaus.
If you don't think Altidore is important, the USA's thrusts into the Ghana 18 all but evaporated into the Natal night after his exit midway through the first half. And no team has shown the importance that a single targetman can have more than Costa Rica with Joel Campbell.
Look for Klinsmann to install a second forward in support of Dempsey. Aron Johannsson is the likely choice, but he'll have to play better than he did against Ghana.
2. CONTAIN RONALDO (AND NANI). The U.S. game plan against Ghana was to give the Black Stars space on the wings and let them fire in harmless crosses to their heart's content. Ghana finished with 21 shots but just three on target.
If the USA gives Cristiano Ronaldo as much space out wide in attacking positions, even if he is not at 100 percent, it will not be as fortunate. Portugal coach Paulo Bento insisted Saturday that his team is more than just one player. Heading the supporting cast is Nani, who will play outside on the opposite side of the field from Ronaldo.
One of the keys for the USA will be Tim Howard, who played at Manchester United with Ronaldo in the early days of their careers. He only had to made two saves against Ghana. He probably wouldn't get off so easily on Sunday in Manaus.
3. PUT ITSELF IN POSITION TO WIN ENDURANCE CONTEST.The USA finds itself in about as good a situation as it will ever be against this Portugal team. Portugal will be down three, perhaps four starters (if Alves can't go). Given its minus-four goal difference, Portugal must beat the USA to have a clear path to the knockout phase.
A win will move the USA into the round of 16, but it has to put itself in a position to win the endurance contest that the match may become at the Arena Amazonia. The USA didn't play particularly well in the first half against Ghana but was ahead at the break.
If it is even or ahead late in the game, the USA will have a chance to put away the Portuguese as it found its legs in the last five minutes of the Ghana and won that endurance battle. After all, the conditions are no different than the USA is used to on the road in Concacaf.