Are you still on an emotional high from USA 2, Ghana 1? Yeah, us too. Now let’s move on to a more pragmatic thought, because as much as a win might seem like it cures all ailments, the USMNT has A LOT of questions. The biggest is obviously how to replace Jozy Altidore up top, but Steve Fogarty covered all of the options there. Of course, we still don’t know just who will get the start in his place or what formation Jürgen Klinsmann will deploy. That’s what this post is for.
Portugal is a dangerous opponent, but they have been beaten before in a famous opener to the 2002 World Cup by the United States and Clint Dempsey and crew have it all to play for in the jungleland of Manaus. A win and the grupo de la muerte will have been quelled in just two games. A draw, especially a scoring one, and things are looking rosy but not guaranteed. A loss? Well, we’d rather not think about that.
Ronaldo is THE danger man but Portugal has other players that can hurt the United States, João Moutinho and Nani chief among them. Injuries and red cards mean things seem to be coming up American, but that should be a warning more than anything. Getting too cocky is the death of many a team. We don’t really know how good this US squad is yet, but this game will tell us a lot.
Who will charged with bringing in another day of American glory? Check it out after the jump.
Steve Fogarty: There was a time less than a year ago when a Tim Howard mistake like the one that opened the door for Ghana’s equalizer would have led to fans calling for Brad Guzan to start. Now? I feel like an idiot even mentioning Guzan here.
Dan Popko: Could Howard have done better on the goal? Sure, but I’d hesitate to call it a mistake. He’ll have his great moment this tournament, just wait…
Dan Popko: Of course, great moments from Howard will certainly be needed if the questions remain with the defense. With so many options in play on the flanks and John Brooks a newly minted American hero it could mean two of the four starting defenders from the Ghana game are not in the backline come kickoff in Manaus. I for one believe that if Matt Besler is healthy he will play — and all indications are that he is good to go. I also believe in continuity, so instead of shuffling the fullbacks I’m keeping Fabian Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley in the team. Despite falling in and out of the lineup during qualifying, Geoff Cameron is the one “No Doubt” starter as he was “Hella Good” in the first game.
Steve Fogarty: Here’s four words I was unsure I’d ever use again — Timmy. Chandler. Right. Back. But against Cristiano Ronaldo, Chandler might be the USMNT’s best option. Fabian Johnson would move over to left back, where he would have more freedom to use his offensive talents. Beasley hits to the bench, through no real fault of his own. Cameron was great against Ghana, he keeps his starting spot. Normally, I’d have no problem starting Besler alongside him. However, this is Manaus, the least forgiving city weather-wise in the World Cup, and Besler is dealing with a hamstring pull. Plus, Brooks’ confidence is at an all-time high. Screw it, I’ll stick with Besler, I’m not that crazy.
Steve Fogarty: Kyle Beckerman got the job done against Ghana’s talented midfield. Well, now Kyle gets to deal with Joao Moutinho, Portugal’s super talented midfielder. While Beckerman’s midfield comrades will also have a ton of defending to do, I’m going to list them in the attacking midfield.
Dan Popko: Beckerman is obviously one of the most important cogs in this defense, meaning he will likely be pushed over a little to the right to deal with Ronaldo more than Moutinho. Because of that I’m putting Jermaine Jones in the defensive midfield here as well, though he will likely be listed as a left midfielder and have more freedom to roam on the counter. I guess we’ll call this a staggered diamond.
Dan Popko: That little twist means it’s more of a two-man attacking midfield, though everything is pretty fluid through the middle of the park. Michael Bradley was not at his best in Natal, but he is vital to the USMNT counterattack and the team in general. He’ll be running the show once again. Graham Zusi made a compelling case on the right-hand side of the diamond, but Bedoya’s willingness to work defensively and his pace getting forward are just of a slightly higher quality than Zusi, enough to offset the dead-ball danger of the Kansas City man’s right foot — at least to start.
Steve Fogarty: Bradley gets another shot at running things in the midfield. He was ineffective against Ghana, something I can’t fathom happening again. Jones and Bedoya both put in memorable performances in the opener. They return on the left and right wings, respectively. Jones will also spend a considerable amount of time covering Beckerman in the center of the field, though I’ll still keep him listed here.
Steve Fogarty: With Jozy Altidore out things get interesting. Clint Dempsey is too much of a badass to let a broken nose stop him from taking the field Sunday. Joining him is Aron Jóhannsson. I chose Jóhannsson because he has the ability to make more plays with the ball at his feet than Chris Wondolowski. Jóhannsson is on a short leash, if he struggles I have no issues with Klinsmann making a change at halftime.
Dan Popko: I have gone back and forth, to and fro, through each and every one of the potential solutions you proposed for the front line. And you know what, I still don’t think I know for sure. Somewhat begrudgingly, I am going with a Wondolowski-Dempsey partnership. I think hold-up play and a willingness to work back on defense, again similar to the Bedoya decision, work in Wondo’s favor. Fogarty may have Jóhannsson on a short leash; the one I’m giving Wondolowski might be shorter.
Steve Fogarty’s Preferred XI
——————– Howard ——————–
Chandler — Cameron —- Besler — Johnson
—————— Beckerman ——————
Bedoya ———————————- Jones
——————– Bradley ———————
———– Jóhannsson — Dempsey ———–
Dan Popko’s Preferred XI
——————– Howard ——————–
Johnson —- Cameron —- Besler —- Beasley
———— Beckerman ———– Jones —–
— Bedoya ———- Bradley ——————
———- Wondolowski — Dempsey ———-