HEEERRREEEE WEEEEE GOOOOOO!
The United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) is back in action today against Portugal and the best player in the world. The Yanks would progress to the second round if they won today, and, with the Europeans missing several players through injury and suspension, they have a real chance to do so.
What’s At Stake
The USA go through with a win today, or a draw today and next week. Since our next match is against the excellent Germans, our best bet is to win today. For Portugal, a loss means elimination, while a win means a decent chance to advance by beating Ghana next week. A draw leaves qualification possible for both sides, but they won’t be playing for it. Portugal think we’re beatable, and as I said, winning today is the USA’s best chance to advance.
The buildup to this match has been dominated by injury news. Portugal are missing several players, including Pepe to red-card suspension. Cristiano Ronaldo is nursing a knee problem. For the USA, the big news is that Jozy Altidore won’t play today (or, according to my sources inside the USMNT camp, for the rest of the tournament).
In Altidore’s place, coach Jürgen Klinsmann will start one of two players: Aron Johansson, a young Icelandic-American who scored 20 goals in 39 appearances in the Dutch league last year; or Chris Wondolowski, a consistent striker who has scored 80 in 142 since 2009 for MLS’s San Jose. Both score goals, but neither is capable of playing Jozy’s physical hold-the-ball-and-wait-for-help role. That means the USA will have to build possession slowly instead of playing long balls for Jozy to chase. Jürgen wants slow buildup anyway, but midfielders like Michael Bradley will have to do much better in possession of the ball than they did Monday.
While the USA’s strategy might be affected by the change, the tactical shape probably won’t. It’ll be 4-4-2 with the middle “4” in the shape of a diamond. Jürgen will stick with 4-4-2 diamond because the Portuguese play 4-3-3. See the following scientific diagram for how a 4-4-2 diamond matches up with the Portuguese 4-3-3:
As you can see, our four-man defense matches up well with the Portuguese three-man offense, giving us an extra man. Meanwhile, each of Portugal’s midfielders has a direct opponent marking him, and the back of our diamond (Kyle Beckerman) is free to roam in front of the defense and disrupt Portuguese attacks. Up ahead, our two strikers mean Portugal’s centerbacks don’t have an extra man unless the fullbacks help out; playing a four-man back line against two strikers is not the optimal situation for Portugal. The problem for the USA is that the Portuguese fullbacks will have the freedom to bomb forward and support the attack. Fortunately, the most potent attacker in the Portuguese defense, Fabio Coentrao, is out injured. We’ll be okay if our outside midfielders do a lot of work.
The heat will also work in our favor. The Yanks are younger than Portugal and, since we play in CONCACAF, better used to traveling to extremely hot matches.
Players to Watch
USA: Fabian Johnson, the USA right back. Fabian has terrific talent; he scored a great goal in the warmup match against Turkey and was key in the buildup to the John Brooks goal on Monday. He also has the most important defensive role today: marking Portugal’s Player-To-Watch.
Portugal: Cristiano Ronaldo (pictured above), an incredible player and Portugal’s leader. The cameramen and producers will probably be more than happy to help you keep an eye on him today.
Interestingly, the other Portuguese players would do well to watch Ronaldo a bit less. In the game against Germany,Portuguese players (Nani and Coentrao most noticeably) spurned decent shooting opportunities in favor of trying to find Ronaldo in a worse position. Portugal mustn’t rely so much today on the Madeiran Adonis.
Ian Darke and Taylor Twellman. Twellman can’t replace the adorable Steve McManaman’s charisma, no matter how pink his shirt. But his knowledge of the USMNT is excellent, and we need his American English in the booth.
Darke, meanwhile, accused an apparently deeply concussed Alvaro Pereira of faking injury in the England vs. Uruguay match. To his credit, he apologized on air. He’ll be on his game tonight.
Match-specific Drinking Games
Diva: Take a shot whenever Cristiano visibly displays his exasperation with his teammates. How drunk? This game would have sent you to bed early in Portugal’s first match.
Pinned: Drink whenever all eleven Americans are pushed back into their own half for over thirty seconds. Count out loud! How drunk? Again, this would have been dangerous last week, but Jurgen will be furious if we play the way we did against Ghana.
Missing Stars: Take a sip whenever Landon Donovan or Jozy Altidore is mentioned during the broadcast. Take a shot if an image of either appears onscreen. How drunk? Permanent brain damage.
Funny man/Straight man: Take a shot whenever Ian Darke says something ironic and Taylor Twellman cluelessly corrects it. I know we’ve played it, but it’s fun. How drunk? One or two shots. Taylor’s growing on me.
Breaktime: Slug some water whenever a player fakes injury or cramp to allow everyone a water break. How drunk? You’ll need this by the end of the match.
USA: Bourbon! I drank bourbon for the last match and we won, so…
Portugal: Port. If Portugal win today, don’t be ashamed to indulge in the sweet stuff after the match. Sip sip sip sip.
– Read my general World Cup watching guide.
– Check out Zonal Marking, my favorite tactics website.
– See a commentary schedule or a review of each commentator.
– See where I’m getting my national drink recommendations.
– Check out other match previews from this group: Germany vs. Ghana, Ghana vs. USA, Germany vs. Portugal
Picture credit: scoopempire.com