[BRAZIL 2014] The USA had five days between its first two games at the World Cup but just three days to recover from the Portugal game in Manaus before it faces Germany Thursday in the midday sun of Recife.
On Monday, the starters stayed behind at the team hotel and did bike work. Before flying to Recife, much of Tuesday's practice was spent playing soccer tennis.
Can the USA recover from the heartbreak of a late equalizer that would have clinched a berth in the round of 16?
More important, will be the USA's fitness to survive the midday heat of Recife and hold off a German attack that could present lots more problems than its first two opponents did.
END CURSE OF MANAUS.Two games were played in Manaus before the USA and Portugal played in the Amazon on Sunday night, and all four teams lost their next games. Coincidence? The first thing we'll need to see is if the USA and Portugal have anything left in the tank because one of two teams likely needs a result if the USA is to move on to the round of 16.
Jurgen Klinsmann has always prided the USA's fitness, and it will be put the ultimate test against Germany. The USA is not a young team -- the average age of the 11 starters against Portugal was 29.2 -- and it left everything on the field in Manaus.
Michael Bradleyran more miles (15.4) than all but one player in the World Cup after the first two games, but there is no question about his engine. "He has an engine that is unbelievable," said Jurgen Klinsmann. "He’s covering up for other players all over the place."
Of bigger concern will be the fitness of the likes of Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman and DaMarcus Beasley, all 32, and Matt Besler, who again experienced tightness in his hamstring at the end of the game. Klinsmann said Besler was ready to go, though.
Graham Zusi, for one,said the heat in Manaus wasn't that bad because the game was played in the evening. And everyone had had time to recover.
“You get your shakes in, your meals, ice baths, a little massage if you need it, got your recovery pants on the plane," he said on Tuesday before the team left for Recife. "You try to sleep as much as you on the plane and then when you get back, we all had until the afternoon to get as much sleep as we wanted to. When the afternoon came around, we went down and guys who played a majority of the minutes just stayed at the hotel and did a 30-minute bike ride and then got massages and stretched. Just kind of the perfect situation for us.”
ULTIMATE TEST FOR BACKLINE.The USA has faced two teams that relied on attacking from the wings. It did a good job against Ghana but a not so good job of balls played in the area against Portugal. The backline has always been considered the national team's weak link, and it will face its ultimate test against Germany.
If you listen to the German press, the Germans have not been playing particularly well -- captain Philipp Lahm has come in for lots of criticism -- but they have scored six goals in two games.
After two games, Germany led all teams in solo runs into the area with 14 -- the USA, by comparison, had four -- so players breaking through from midfield will prevent a huge challenge for the Americans. The pressure will be on Beckerman, in particular, to blunt the German combination play from 30 yards in to the top of the area.
ADD VARIETY TO ATTACK.Except for Clint Dempsey's first goal against Ghana that came from a throw-in on the left touchline, almost all the U.S. offense has come from down the right side. The second goal against Ghana and first goal against the Portuguese followed corner kicks created by Fabian Johnson. And the go-ahead goal against Portugal came when Jones fed DeAndre Yedlin, whose only job after entering the game was to turn on his jets and get down the right wing.
That reliance on wide play from the right wing is not likely to get the USA anywhere against Germany, which knows all about Johnson. Six starters played with him on Germany's 2009 U-21 European championship team. Portugal had no answer for Yedlin, but he wouldn't fool Germany if he is brought on again.
In the first two games, the USA generated only 16 attacks down the left wing, fewer than any team except Honduras, and just eight attacks down the middle, fewer than any teams except Iran and Algeria.
More than just getting more wing play from the left side -- time to start Brad Davis? -- the USA will need to get Dempsey more involved in the attack. Yes, he scored the go-ahead goal Sunday night, but he was otherwise largely visible in the second half against Portugal, which means one of two things: a second striker needs to support him up front or Bradley must be pushed more forward.