On ESPN at 6 PM the United States will face off against Portugal in a match which could propel the USA through to the next round of the World Cup. The importance of this match to both teams is immense. Portugal cannot afford to lose if they want to advance through to the next round and the United States would like a win against an injury ravaged Portugal side so they don’t have to beat Germany on Thursday, a heavy favorite to win the competition.
Portugal has been dealt a variety of physical and mental blows since the World Cup has started. Left back Fábio Coentrão suffered a thigh injury in their last match which will keep him out of the rest of the tournament. Striker Hugo Almeida was forced to leave the last match against Germany in the 28th minute with an injury and he will likely be ruled out for tonight’s match. Reigning Ballon D’Or (World Player of the Year) winner Cristiano Ronaldo has been dealing with knee problems for a month or so now and he will be limited in terms of what he will be able to do in the game. He is expected to start but his dynamic playmaking ability will surely be weakened by the injury. Portugal’s top defender, Pepe, will miss the match against the United States as he was given a one match suspension for a head-butt he delivered to Germany’s Thomas Müller.
Mentally, the 4-0 loss to Germany surely has to have hurt their confidence. The United States may be able to take advantage of a weakened Portugal side that is being compared to a “wounded animal”. However, if there’s one thing we know about a wounded animal is that it can become desperate to survive. Portugal is desperate to win this match. It was anticipated that Portugal would easily make it to the round of 8 so being eliminated in the group stage was certainly not a possibility they were hoping for.
The United States will be dealing with their own set of problems. Striker Jozy Altidore will most likely miss the rest of this World Cup with a hamstring injury that he sustained in the 2-1 win against Ghana. Choosing Altidore’s replacement will be the single most important decision that manager Jürgen Klinsmann will have to make today. He could use the young Aron Johannson and hope that he performs at a higher level than he did when he was subbed on for Altidore in the match against Ghana. Another possibility is using the 31 year old Chris Wondolowski who is the MLS single-season goal scoring record holder. It’s also a distinct possibility that Klinsmann could drop his 4-4-2 formation in favor of a 1 striker formation in which Clint Dempsey would play as the lone forward. It may not be the best decision to use Dempsey as the lone striker after considering that Dempsey could be slightly limited in his play-making ability as he will be playing with a broken nose that could hinder his breathing.
Portugal’s Ronaldo/Eder/Nani vs.USA’s Besler/Brooks and Cameron
The United States center backs will be tested early and often by the dynamic forwards of Portugal. They should not underestimate the supporting cast despite the big name of Cristiano Ronaldo. Besler may still be lacking fitness after he was taken out at the half during the Ghana match due to a hamstring injury so the “Greatest American since Abraham Lincoln” John Brooks may be called upon in an attempt to hinder Portugal’s forwards.
Prediction: 3-2 United States
This prediction may allude to my blind homer-ism when it comes to the USMNT but I truly believe that the United States will be able to pull out a victory tonight against Portugal. I predict goals out of Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Graham Zusi (UMD Alum) and that the USA will clinch a berth into the knockout stage of the World Cup.
(Photo Courtesy of dailystar.com)