STANFORD, Calif. – Is the US national team looking at Atlético Madrid for inspiration on how to slow down Cristiano Ronaldo?
Perhaps. The 23 players on Jurgen Klinsmann’s World Cup roster all watched Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final together at the team hotel. And although Real Madrid prevailed 4-1 after extra time, they took note of the effectiveness of Diego Simeone’s game plan against the Portuguese superstar at Lisbon's Estadio da Luz.
“If I’m going to be honest, I don’t think he had his best game,” winger Alejandro Bedoya told reporters on Sunday, the final day of USMNT camp at Stanford University. “...Atlético Madrid did a great job against him. That’s a great side to look at [as far as] how hard they worked as a team and every player working hard for each other.”
Ronaldo was rendered mostly ineffective for more than 90 minutes on Saturday as Atlético played excellent team defense to deny the La Liga and Champions League scoring champion the ball and close down quickly on him when he did get it.
The lethal winger finally got on the scoresheet in extratime, supplying the assist for Marcelo to score Real’s insurance goal in the 118th minute. Ronaldo then added his own imprint on the game by converting a penalty kick in stoppage time of the second extratime period, capping an incredible comeback from a 1-0 deficit.
Will the USMNT employ a similarly stultifying team defense on the Ballon d’Or winner when they face Portugal in Manaus on June 22? Maybe, said Bedoya. But it’ll likely take more than that to slow down “the world’s best player.”
“I think we’ll do everything we can to analyze him,” he said, “and hopefully we can break him down and do our best to defend him.”
“The pace of that game was unbelievable. But of course, that’s why we’re working hard out here [at camp]. We’re working on our fitness and everything like that because we feel that could be a difference in the World Cup.”
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com.