After a dramatic win against Ghana, the US can guarantee themselves a spot in the knockout round with another victory. Strangely enough, their best chance to get it might be against a Portugal team that, despite having arguably the best player in the world on their roster, lost 4-0 to Germany in their opening game.
On the other hand, a loss would eliminate Portugal from the World Cup. Cornering a wounded animal can be dangerous.
DRESSING THE NINE: US coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s plan was to start Jozy Altidore at striker for every game of the World Cup, but now that Altidore has been officially ruled out against Portugal with a hamstring injury, Klinsmann needs a new way forward. Will he select USMNT neophyte Aron Johannsson as Altidore’s replacement, or San Jose Earthquakes sniper Chris Wondolowski? And can the US tactics change to accommodate a striker that – prolific scorers though Johannsson and Wondolowski are – isn’t a target forward like Altidore?
WILL HE? WON’T HE? Portugal’s superstar Cristiano Ronaldo has been nursing a knee injury since the beginning of June, and reports surfaced earlier this week that his surgeon told him that continuing to play could put his career in danger. Portugal’s players insist that he is “100 percent,” but that seems unlikely. The US camp expects him to play on Sunday, but even if he does start, will he need to come off early? And if he does play the full 90, what kind of effect will the injury have on his performance?
THE REPLACEMENTS: Portugal’s starting lineup against the US will have at least three changes to the one that faced Germany. Defender Fábio Coentrão and striker Hugo Almeida have both been ruled out of the rest of the World Cup due to injury, and starting centerback Pepe will be suspended because of a red card. Finding a satisfactory replacement for even one of those players would be a trick; finding satisfactory replacements for all three might be impossible.
SNIFFING FOR ANSWERS: American captain Clint Dempsey got his nose broken in the game against Ghana. Though he can now breathe out of one nostril, his nose is still broken. Deuce could wear a facemask to protect it, but it may be uncomfortable on a day where the weather will be rainy and in the low 80s. If he elects not to wear a mask, however, there’s always a risk he might get further injured. What to do?
KILLER Bs: When Sporting Kansas City centerback Matt Besler came off at halftime with Ghana due to an injury, young German-American defender John Brooks came on, defended well, and scored the winning goal. Both are options to start for Klinsmann, but the more pressing concern is with the play of Toronto FC midfielder Michael Bradley. Though he’s maybe the best player in the US squad, Bradley looked out of sorts against Ghana. Can he recover his form by Sunday?
THE STAR YOU KNOW: Tim Howard, USA – What do you do when you’re playing the most prolific goalscorer on the planet? Defend like hell and hope your goalkeeper comes up big. Howard is a world-class ‘keeper, so he should be up to the task.
THE PLAYER WHO WILL SURPRISE YOU: William Carvalho, Portugal – He's not guaranteed to start, but he should be. Carvalho is one of the best young d-mids in Europe, and could do a better job of closing down the gap beween the central midfield and central defense than veteran Miguel Veloso, who was overrun vs. Germany.