Suddenly, the Group of Death is wide open. The USMNT have an enormous opportunity Sunday to advance into the knockout stage with a win over Portugal.
Yes, Pepe is suspended for the Portuguese squad and Cristiano Ronaldo’s health is in question but it will still be an enormous obstacle. Luckily, this is the World Cup for surprises. Ghana played Germany to a draw. Costa Rica has knocked off Uruguay and Italy to advance from their group. England and Spain are already eliminated. Why not add to that list with a USA win?
So, how can the US squad pull that off? Portugal was just embarrassed in their last game against Germany so it would stand to reason that they would come out aggressive, looking to restore some pride. Adding to that, is the fact that with the draw between Germany and Ghana means that a win gets Portugal back in the race for advancement.
Fortunately, the best player on Portugal does not seem to care about anything but himself. Ronaldo’s ego may be the USA’s best asset. Ghana showed that the US defense is still vulnerable to a high pressure attack but with Ronaldo egotistically hogging all free kicks and looking for his own glory, the US can take Portugal off their game by just taking Ronaldo off his.
The USMNT has to be ready to absorb an early assault on goal but getting physical with Ronaldo early, knocking him around, should slow that pressure. It will then be up to the midfield to hold more possession than they did in their match against Ghana. I would like to see Graham Zusi in the starting eleven to help with this.
Alejandro Bedoya played well but I like the way Zusi handles the free kicks more so then how Bedoya does. Free kicks are always an important part of the American offensive and in a game like this I do not like the idea of “wasting” any of them.
I also think Chris Wondolowski should get the start in place of injured Jozy Alitdore. Wondo is super aggressive and would keep the Portuguese defense on alert for any counter attack coming which would prevent them from getting too involved in the offensive attack. This would also allow more time for the US midfielders to gain possession and control to generate an attack.
Aron Johannsson can always be brought in as sub if the need arises, I just believe Wondo paired alongside Clint Dempsey provides more of a threat at the start of the game. I really think that will be the key. Absorb the early attack and threaten with a counter. The US needs to get Portugal out of rhythm as soon as possible and then settle into their own style.
The US will not win by being prettier or more graceful with the ball. However, if they play their way, get under Ronaldo’s skin, frustrate Portugal, and grind and gut their way through the game, they can certainly emerge victorious on Sunday.
Keys to Victory:
1. Absorb early pressure
2. Threaten with a counter attack
3. Capitalize on free kicks
4. Play American Soccer- Grit and Guts