Key Selection Choices for USA in World Cup Clash with Portugal
So this is why they give you a 23-man roster for perhaps only three games in which at maximum you will only use 14 men.
United States men's national soccer team coach Jurgen Klinsmann has 23 men on his roster for his team's upcoming match with Portugal on Sunday, but he is already down to 22 he can use.
Jozy Altidore has been ruled out of the Portugal match after straining his left hamstring against Ghana. But he is not the only dinged American after their win over the Black Stars.
Clint Dempsey broke his nose, and Matt Besler tweaked his right hamstring in the match. Besler had to come off, but Dempsey played the whole game. Both are expected to be available against Portugal.
Between these injury concerns and the stiffer challenge Portugal projects to present, Klinsmann has some difficult decisions to make with regard to his XI.
Ghana's strategy against the United States was not subtle, and it did not need to be. The Black Stars funneled their offense down the right flank because they knew DaMarcus Beasley could not close that supply line down.
The Americans survived a dismal performance from Beasley thanks to an early goal from Dempsey and a lightning strike of a header from John Brooks in the 86th minute.
But Portugal has surely been looking at the USA/Ghana match film, and it knows that the Americans basically had a welcome mat out on the right side of the pitch.
Klinsmann must decide whether he can count on Beasley to bounce back and play better against better competition in this Portugal match, or whether Beasley simply does not have another gear in his engine anymore.
If Beasley does not play, Klinsmann will probably start Timmy Chandler. Selecting the 24-year-old Chandler would be a risk insofar as Beasley has now played in four World Cups to Chandler's none.
Then again, the way Beasley played against Ghana, Klinsmann probably has no choice but to gamble on Chandler.
When Altidore scored twice against Nigeria in the final U.S. friendly before this World Cup, Klinsmann must have exulted internally.
Many of the questions surrounding the American side entering the tournament involved where the goals would come from, particularly if Altidore was still out of form.
Unfortunately for Klinsmann, he is right back where he started where Altidore is concerned. The striker found his form, then lasted less than a half an hour against Ghana and is now out for the Portugal match.
Klinsmann actually has two routes he can take with Altidore sidelined.
He can replace Altidore with another forward, most likely either Chris Wondolowski or Aron Johannsson.
When Altidore went down, it was Johannsson who replaced him against Ghana. Johannsson did not distinguish himself—though, in fairness, the Americans spent about two-thirds of the match foolishly trying to make Dempsey's opening goal stand up. As a result, the ball never really got up to Johannsson.
Klinsmann's other option is to leave Dempsey alone up front and add a fifth midfielder. Mix Diskerud or Graham Zusi are good candidates.
If Klinsmann is really feeling frisky, he could put Julian Green in the midfield and hope for a moment or two of magic.
Before the World Cup started, Klinsmann's inclusion of Brooks on his 23-man roster over the likes of Clarence Goodson seemed a move intended to benefit the United States' 2018 World Cup team, not this one.
That all changed in one incendiary moment.
Brooks came on as a substitute against Ghana and headed home the match-winner in the 86th minute. Those three points have changed the Americans' outlook on surviving Group G from highly improbable to very possible.
With that in mind, can Klinsmann really sit Brooks in this match against Portugal?
Brooks' insertion into the XI against Portugal would most likely come at Besler's expense, because Geoff Cameron certainly isn't going to sit.
Deploying Brooks as a substitute is the safer play. But if Klinsmann believes in unquantifiable variables like luck, form and momentum, he must consider starting Brooks.
Assists are not regarded in world football the way they are in other sports.
Players who rack up assists are heralded as great players in ice hockey and basketball. For that matter, American football quarterbacks are largely judged on how many touchdown passes they throw even though it is another player who actually scores the touchdown.
So Zusi's role in the Americans' match-winning goal against Ghana has probably been underplayed in the media. The story is how 21-year-old substitute Brooks scored, not how the ball got to Brooks' head in the first place.
But that sweetly placed corner kick from Zusi may be a compelling argument to start him ahead of Alejandro Bedoya.
If the Americans are to secure a result against Portugal, they will probably need at least one goal from a set piece. Zusi's ability to place the ball from corners and free kicks should merit him consideration to start against the Portuguese.
The Michael Bradley Question
You do not need to take my word for the fact that Michael Bradley did not play well against Ghana.
Here is the Daily Mail's match report, grading Bradley at a "6" for his play. That grade was charitable if you believe some of the other reports.
"At the core of the problems in the Ghana game was star midfielder Michael Bradley, widely acknowledged as the team's best player, with the glaring exception of Monday night," wrote Mike DeCourcy for Goal.com.
Suggesting that Klinsmann would sit Bradley against Portugal is beyond ludicrous, and that is not the point of this slide. Bradley must start. Klinsmann must hope that, like most great players, Bradley will follow a subpar performance with a good one.
The question for Klinsmann is what he will do if Bradley labors through the first half against Portugal and still looks out of sorts. With Germany looming in the Americans' third Group G match, this tilt with Portugal has the feel of an elimination game.
If Bradley struggles again, will Klinsmann stay with him? And given the dearth of proven talent behind Bradley, is there really any other choice to make?