Did you think Portugal would be the team that had its back against the wall going into the game Sunday? The United States secured three points in the opening game against Ghana and now is in a position where a tie against Portugal is a good result.
On the other hand, Portugal needs a victory. A defeat sends it home while a tie keeps it on the respirator going into the third and final group-stage game.
The United States is going into this game without Jozy Altidore, which is a big loss because no one does quite what he does. Aron Johannsson or Chris Wondolowski? That is the question facing Jürgen Klinsmann. He picked Johannsson in the last game, but I think he might go with Wondolowski in this one. Wondolowski has a great work rate and is a little more physical than Johannsson. Clint Dempsey pairs better with a player up front who likes to mix it up a bit. Plus Wondolowski’s work rate will pose problems for Portugal’s Ricardo Costa, who replaced Pepe in the last game.
The rest of the lineup should stay close to the same. The only other question mark is whether Graham Zusi starts for Alejandro Bedoya. Zusi has more speed than Bedoya, so I would go with him and he can be useful in the counter as well. If Matt Besler is healthy, he will start. If not, it will be John Anthony Brooks, the hero of the game against Ghana.
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Can we stop Cristiano Ronaldo? Or will Ronaldo stop himself? How healthy is he? If he is fit he can dominate. If not, it could be a long night for Portugal. Fabian Johnson will draw the assignment of marking Ronaldo. Johnson has trouble marking guys when they run well off the ball, and if Ronaldo is full of energy and running well off the ball that will create problems for the United States.
The rest of the Portuguese team needs to come to play. Especially Joao Moutinho and Nani, who need to be active for Portugal to be successful. Eder needs to be more dangerous up front or they need to play the veteran Helder Postiga, who is more a central striker and better finisher.
The game projects well for the United States because Portugal needs to carry the game and win if it can. That means it will have to open up sooner rather than later. Michael Bradley is good at intercepting passes deep and then starting counters. He also is good at getting forward late and scoring at the end of counters. Bradley needs to have a good game.
Dempsey, broken nose and all, is another key in that he will find space to carry the ball forward as Portugal throws players into the attack. If he can combine with Wondolowski or Johannsson, then the United States’ counter will be very dangerous.
But we have to defend well. Geoff Cameron and Besler need to be organized and we need to force Portugal wide. Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones need to plug up the middle and keep Portugal from combining down the center of the field.
The final factor is the heat and humidity in Manaus. The players will suffer and the second half will be a struggle for both teams. Hopefully those summer games in Houston and Dallas will help the U.S. deal with this better than Portugal.
One point is huge. Three points puts us through, for sure. Go have some fun. This has been a great World Cup.
Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid will be analyzing key matches for The Seattle Times throughout the World Cup.