Graham Zusi delivered the corner kick John Brooks headed into the net for the winner against Ghana. Credit: Getty Images
The United States has perhaps positioned itself to advance to the Round of 16 off its 2-1 win over Ghana on Tuesday.
The national team faces Portugal, a team reeling off a 4-0 loss to Germany in their World Cup opener, on Sunday (6 p.m., ESPN).
The last time these two nations met in the World Cup was in 2002 when the United States pulled of a stunning 3-2 win against what was considered to be at that time the best generation of Portuguese players ever produced.
This is a game the United States can get a result in given Portugal’s recent form and injury woes. But it won’t be easy. Portugal is still relatively deep and overall more talented than the United States, but the Americans can win if they remain compact and take their chances well.
Three reasons the U.S. will succeed ...
After beating Ghana, the nation that knocked them out of the last two World Cup tournaments, the United States has to be feeling better about its prospects to advance. It doesn’t get any easier against Portugal but earning a tie or perhaps a win isn’t out of the question. The Portuguese are currently the No. 4 team in the world according to the FIFA rankings, but they aren’t playing that way now. They will be desperate Sunday, especially early on, and if the Americans hold tight they can get a result.
2. Unpredictable lineup
With Jozy Altidore out due to a hamstring injury and Matt Besler perhaps a bit of a question mark, the roster shuffling could keep Portugal guessing. Does the United States put Aron Johannson up top and try to play more of a possession game? Or is Chris Wondolowski a better fit given his movement off the ball? And with the lack of possession last game, it could be Graham Zusi who could be a good fit in the midfield. John Anthony Brooks, who scored the go-ahead goal on Tuesday as a halftime sub for Besler, figures to get a start on Sunday.
3. Limping in
Portugal is down some serious power in their starting lineup with Pepe suspended and Fabio Coentrao and Hugo Almeida injured. Not to mention Cristiano Ronaldo has missed parts of practice last week leading up to this game. He is supposed to play, but it’s not a good sign considering how important he is to their side.
Three reasons the U.S. will struggle ...
1. Portugal is mad
Portugal was hammered 4-0 by Germany in their World Cup opener, and any team that faces them will be up against a team likely to come flying out of the gate. Portugal got a lot of heat from their own media for Tuesday’s result and they want to prove those headlines wrong. They also know a loss likely means they will be eliminated from the tournament. They will be aggressive, so an early mistake by the United States could be costly.
2. Listless Yanks
After Clint Dempsey’s goal in the opening minute, the United States failed to move the ball and attack effectively. They played defense to preserve the lead and Ghana dominated. Against a technically superior side, the United States needs to do better in holding possession. Even with all the injuries, it will be a tough go against Portugal given their skill players’ comfort with the ball at their feet.
3. Depth issues
The United States will need to turn to Wondolowski or Aron Johannsson up top with no Altidore. And along the back line, it would likely be Brooks to get the nod if Besler can’t go. The 21-year-old center back struggled at times against Ghana, even though he scored the game-winner off a set piece. It’s times like this the decision to not put Landon Donovan or Clarence Goodson on the roster looks bad. If another injury happens in this game, the United States may not have a difference maker on the bench.