6 Things Jurgen Klinsmann and USMNT Must Address vs. Portugal
Coming off their dramatic 2-1 win over Ghana on Monday night, the United States men's national team and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann must now switch gears and fully concentrate their efforts to preparing for Portugal.
While the win against Ghana has put the U.S. in a great position to advance, a win or draw against Portugal would likely seal American advancement to the next round.
Here are six things Klinsmann and the U.S. must do to make that happen.
Yesterday, the Internet briefly went crazy when rumors began to circulate that Ronaldo had once again left training and might possibly be out of the World Cup altogether.
However, those rumors appeared not to be true as Portuguese goalkeeper Beto later stated that Ronaldo was actually "100 percent fit," as reported on FoxSports.com.
Assuming he does play, the U.S. will certainly have to think about how they want to set up against the Real Madrid star. He will likely play on the left side of Portugal's attack, meaning that Fabian Johnson, the United States' right-back, will draw the duty of marking Ronaldo through much of the game.
Providing cover at right center back will be Geoff Cameron, and luckily for the U.S., Cameron and Johnson are their two most experienced defenders, playing in the English Premier League and Bundesliga, respectively.
Helping Johnson at right midfield will probably be either Alejandro Bedoya or Graham Zusi, but another interesting option would be to move Jermaine Jones to the right side and switch Bedoya or Zusi over to the left.
Playing Jones on the outside certainly isn't his natural position, but as he proved against Ghana and previously against Nigeria, he can be counted on to provide defensive support in a wide role when needed and certainly won't shy away from putting in a hard tackle or two on the Portuguese attacker.
Who Replaces Jozy Altidore Up Top?
Assuming Jozy Altidore does not recover from his hamstring injury in time to face Portugal, Klinsmann will be forced to replace him in the lineup. Against Ghana, Klinsmann went with youngster Aron Johannsson, but Johannsson failed to provide the type of holdup play that Altidore specializes in.
The fact is, the U.S. does not have a like-for-like replacement for Altidore at forward. Neither Johannsson nor the other U.S. forward, Chris Wondolowski, are big, physical forwards like Altidore. The two American strikers who do fit that mold, Eddie Johnson and Terrence Boyd, were left at home.
So now Klinsmann is faced with a difficult choice.
The only player who can provide Altidore's physicality up top is Clint Dempsey. Dempsey isn't a natural target forward, but, like Altidore, he relishes the physical battle. However, if Dempsey plays up top, it creates another question as to who would replace him as the withdrawn forward.
Many U.S. fans criticized the play of Michael Bradley against Ghana and blamed the U.S.' lack of transition in the second half on him. However, Bradley actually had an 83 percent pass completion rating in the match and was forced to drop much deeper into the midfield once Altidore left the game.
It certainly didn't help that Clint Dempsey was playing with a broken nose and couldn't breathe, but the U.S. has to get more out of its forwards in terms of possession to help relieve pressure on the defense.
If Klinsmann elects to play Dempsey as the target forward, the options at withdrawn striker would include Aron Johannsson, Mix Diskerud or Alejandro Bedoya.
Johannsson actually prefers to play as a withdrawn forward but still needs to prove he can hack it at the international level—something that was not apparent on Monday night. Diskerud is a great linking midfielder, but one wonders if he can play that high up the pitch effectively.
The final option is Bedoya, who actually played in the No. 10 role several times this season for Nantes in Ligue 1.
None are a perfect option.
Matt Besler or John Anthony Brooks?
Before he had to be withdrawn due to injury, Matt Besler was having a fantastic match against Ghana. But he came off at the half with an apparent hamstring injury. His replacement, John Anthony Brooks, got off to a shaky start defensively and nearly conceded the equalizer early in the second half off a poor clearance.
However, Brooks worked his way into the match and, of course, delivered the U.S.'s game-winning goal on his header in the 86th minute.
Brooks was left for dead by many pundits after his poor performance for the U.S. against Ukraine, but a strong finish to his Bundesliga season helped him work his way back into the mix for the U.S. He also provides the type of physical presence in the back not seen for the United States since the glory days of Oguchi Onyewu.
That being said, Besler has been the U.S.'s most consistent defender for the last year-and-a-half and, assuming he's fully fit, should retake his spot in the starting XI.
Graham Zusi or Alejandro Bedoya?
No one can doubt the effort of Alejandro Bedoya against Ghana. He also played well against Nigeria in the USMNT's final send-off game. However, he doesn't seem to contribute as much offensively for the U.S. as Graham Zusi.
While Klinsmann's first concern against Portugal will likely be defense on his team's right side, Zusi is also strong in minding his defensive duties, as he proved last year in the vital 0-0 draw against Mexico at Estadio Azteca during qualifying.
Zusi also provides the best set piece service of any U.S. player likely to play on Sunday. And, as the U.S. proved again on Monday against Ghana, set pieces remain one of the Americans' most trusted ways to score goals.
Finally, Zusi will likely be fresher after having played only the final 15 minutes against Ghana. In the heat and humidity of Manaus, Zusi and Bedoya should switch roles, with Zusi starting and Bedoya coming on late to provide energy off the bench.
The Left Side
DaMarcus Beasley's performance against Ghana was criticized by many, but the fact is, Ghana targeted him all game and their lone goal came down the U.S.' right side when Fabian Johnson didn't track his man.
The only other option for the U.S. at left-back—assuming Klinsmann won't switch Fabian Johnson there—would be to start Timmy Chandler.
It's an idea not without merit, but one thing that has been clear against Nigeria and Ghana is that Matt Besler, the likely left center back, has a better relationship and understanding with Beasley than with Chandler.
Chandler also tends to underperform for the U.S. in warmer-weather games.
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