Why Graham Zusi Must Be Handed a Start for USA vs. Portugal

Tre' AtkinsonFeatured ColumnistJune 18, 2014

GLENDALE, AZ - APRIL 02:  Graham Zusi #19 of USA controls the ball during the International Friendly against Mexico at University of Phoenix Stadium on April 2, 2014 in Glendale, Arizona. Mexico and USA played to a 2-2 tie.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Despite defeating Ghana 2-1 in their opening match of the World Cup, things definitely did not go as planned for the USMNT. Now with Portugal on the horizon, Jurgen Klinsmann's side will need to address a few issues if they want to keep hope of escaping the group alive.

It's clear that the U.S. will not line up against Portugal the way they did against Ghana. That being said, this could be the perfect chance to utilize the talents of Graham Zusi in the starting lineup.

America started the match against Ghana with their new 4-4-2 diamond intact. However, it did not stay that way for long. The Yanks quickly switched into a true 4-4-2, which did not prove as solid as many would have hoped.

The U.S. was unable to control the midfield, and their structure on the wings was even worse. There was a lot of space on the flanks, which forced Jermaine Jones to cover so far over that the middle of the pitch was often left vacant.

NATAL, BRAZIL - JUNE 16:  John Brooks of the United States (C) celebrates scoring his team's second goal with Graham Zusi (L) and Fabian Johnson (R) during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group G match between Ghana and the United States at Estadio das Dun
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Going into the match against Portugal it is safe to say that we should see the return of the trusted 4-2-3-1.

The back four is already settled. Fabian Johnson, Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron were stellar last game, and DaMarcus Bealsey will be hoping for a good showing after his rough time marking the speedy Ghana attack.

At the same time, the double pivot looks shored up as well. Both Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones were great against Ghana defensively and will form a strong pair in front of the back line against Portugal.

With the double pivot being used, the U.S. midfield will have more structure to create, which was sorely missed against Ghana. And while the midfield is being covered well, the wings will also have a bit more protection thanks to the stability.

That being said, Michael Bradley will finally be able to play further forward and create behind the striker as he will be flanked by two wingers. With Altidore out of the match due to a hamstring injury, fans can expect to see Clint Dempsey in the lone striker role in this formation.

Alejandro Bedoya's work rate on the right wing will see him keep his starting role as he looks to hold down Cristiano Ronaldo. But who does that leave on the left wing? You guessed it, Graham Zusi.

Bleacher Report Formation Builder

In the match against Ghana, the U.S. were missing creativity and an attacking presence on the right wing. Jermaine Jones was the only option and his inability to contribute offensively really cost the Yanks.

With Zusi on the wing the U.S. will not only be able to focus more attention on controlling the midfield, but there will also be another strong attacking presence opposite of Bedoya to help create chances for Dempsey up front.

America really got away from their game on Monday, playing too centrally and not spreading the ball around enough. Fielding Zusi on the right will help even out the formation and bring an extra kick to the offensive side of the ball.

Altidore's injury was a big hit for America. Aron Johannsson and Chris Wondolowski have not shown that they are ready to play a big role in the World Cup, which leaves Dempsey little help up front.

Zusi's presence will give Captain America the service he needs to cause problems for Portugal, but he also provides a scoring threat from set pieces and long shots. With Portugal's defense missing both Pepe and Fabio Coentrao, the U.S. must take their chances on the offensive end.

While the Zusi and Bedoya combination will help America in attack, it will also provide much-needed defensive stability as well. Zusi's pace and ability to track back will take some pressure off of Beasley without having to risk Jones drifting too far out of position.

At 27 years old, Zusi is ready to cement his place in the USMNT. He's been Klinsmann's secret weapon for long enough and now is the time for him to show what he can do in the starting lineup.

With the changes that need to take place, adding Zusi to the lineup makes perfect sense. America's goal of getting out of the group demands a good result against the Portuguese, and Zusi is ready to have a major impact on this World Cup.


Who should step in for Jozy Altidore? Is Zusi the right man for the job? Should Klinsmann return to the 4-2-3-1? Leave your thoughts and comments below!