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Three keys to USA-Portugal
by Paul Kennedy, June 22nd, 2014 1:34AM
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TAGS:  men's national team, portugal, world cup 2014


[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.

  1. Tim Gibson
    commented on: June 22, 2014 at 9:38 a.m.
    I Believe
  1. Andy Wagner
    commented on: June 22, 2014 at 9:55 a.m.
    I think the US has a great chance if three things happen...C.R. picks up a red card early in the game, the referee misses a sure offside call and Portugal scores two own goals. Yes, that should secure a place in the next round. I would love to see a rematch with Belgium. I recall several months ago when those same Belgians ran off our own pitch. Folks it is time to stop dreaming of things and start developing a soccer program that goes into these tournaments with the confidence that we can play with the consistency and style that is deserving of being on the field at this level. Oh by the way...we should not allow our academy players to enroll in college. This is unbecoming of a future footballer.
  1. Terry Ellis
    commented on: June 22, 2014 at 10:40 a.m.
    Andy--not ALLOW our academy players to enroll in college??? This ain't China man. If I had a son who was wanting to enroll in college and a coach told him he couldn't I would tell that coach where he could stick it! A person's education is MORE important than a game! No matter what the game. How many basketball and Football athletes have we used up in the college system and they didn't graduate and ended up flipping burgers? Think about it. Also I think the US has a good chance against Portugal as is. We have definitely improved in the last 20-30 yrs!!
  1. cisco martinez
    commented on: June 22, 2014 at 10:59 a.m.
    Containing ronaldo and nani on the wings is vital. Klinsmann want to dictate the game, will he play a diamond or more Christmas tree Nd look for the counter? Wondo or johannson? USA or Portugal? Boy I can't wait, Go Go USA!
  1. Ginger Peeler
    commented on: June 22, 2014 at 11:52 a.m.
    Okay, Andy, you clearly think the US soccer program stinks. You've made that clear with your gloom and doom statements. Seems as if you're waiting for the moment when you can say, "I told you so." However, WE beat Ghana who tied Germany who shut out Portugal 4 to 0. So Germany is definitely "inconsistent" and did Portugal play with "the style that is deserving of being on the field at this level? Pepe certainly didn't. Our program is a process and it takes time. There are so many positives to be taken from our team and our program! The game tonight pits one injured team against another. Neither will be fielding the originally projected lineups. It's going to be exciting! Enjoy the sport, the beautiful game, in a venue that only comes around every 4 years. If you can help, start coaching at the youth level. If you're already doing that, then go for high school, skip college that you believe should be bypassed and go on to MLS. Don't just talk about it...get actively involved in helping to make a difference! I had a friend who refereed youth soccer. After a game, there were often some parents who would come up to her and complain about a call. She would graciously thank them for their input and then tell them of our league's need for referees. And she would give them the date when the next classes were starting. Bless you, Tim made my day. We Believe!
  1. Charles Stamos
    commented on: June 22, 2014 at 12:42 p.m.
    I like the idea of JJones in for Altidore and Zusi starting, but that may be too radical a change for JK. More likely Zusi starts as a 5th middie and we play lots of defense and hope for a counterattack goal. Still, there is no problem with JJones starting at middie and playing further forward alongside Bradley and being a target forward on goal/free kicks. Good luck USA.
  1. Dan Murphy
    commented on: June 22, 2014 at 1:40 p.m.
    I believe that....
  1. Kent James
    commented on: June 22, 2014 at 2:27 p.m.
    I believe that we will win! (Powers of positive thinking...surely an appropriate American characteristic).
  1. Andy Wagner
    commented on: June 22, 2014 at 3:33 p.m.
    Why then can they say they cannot play high school! What is the difference. That was my point.

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