HOUSTON - The US started the World Cup on the right foot with a gritty win against Ghana. They now face another tough challenge against Portugal on Sunday.
Team USA must get at least a point out of this game if they want to fulfill their dreams of making it out of the "Group of Death." There is not a better time to face Portugal either, as they are missing two of their starting defenders in Pepe and Flavio Coentrao, and Cristiano Ronaldo is being slowed by injury.
Additionally, when you look ahead at how Germany is playing it will be extremely difficult to get a result from them in the last game of the group stage.
Portugal is a team that is feeling embarrassed after their opening round blowout by the Germans. That is precisely why it is important for the US to start the game like they did against Ghana. By putting the Portuguese on the back foot early the US could keep them from gaining confidence.
US players will need to be aware of Ronaldo at all times, as he always rises to the occasion in games like these, and for Portugal Sunday's is the biggest game of them all. His pace, power, aerial ability and striking ability from distance will be a massive test for the US back line. The newly-formed partnership between center backs Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron will be tested.
I feel it's important for the team to get in a few hard tackles early in the game to test Ronaldo's knee, since he is dealing with tendinitis. They need to let him know that this will be a physical game and prevent him from running one on one at the US defenders.
An area that intrigues me in this game is the US attack, as they will be without their centerpiece, Jozy Altidore. On the flip side, Aron Johannsson is a player that I have liked ever since he put on a US jersey. He is crafty and clinical in front of goal, and while I feel that he will score many goals for the US one day, I am still unsure on whether he is completely ready. I am hoping this will be his coming out party, but he needs to create that partnership with Dempsey. This was lacking in the first game against Ghana, but hopefully this area will develop.
Two US players went down with hamstring injuries in the first match. This is an area of concern for me. Signs of fatigue also became evident in the warm-up games leading up to the World Cup, which makes me wonder if the players were pushed too hard.
Jürgen Kinsmann has stated repeatedly that American players need to be fitter, and has pushed the team hard to get to that point. Are those injuries a result of that? I hope they were just random occurrences, but it is something that I will be looking out for as we play more games.
In the end, I think Ronaldo will get a goal. The US, however, will jump on a Portugal team that is banged up and win, 2-1.
The US and Portugal take the pitch Sunday at 5 p.m. CT.
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