2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

US directive simple: Win and you’re in

Published: June 21, 2014, 11:48 pm, by Scott Kaniewski
United States forward Aron Johannsson celebrates after beating Ghana on Monday.  (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

United States forward Aron Johannsson celebrates after beating Ghana on Monday. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

Now that Germany is done granting Ghana a draw, the United States know what they have to do. If the US can beat Portugal on Sunday at 4 p.m. its on to the knockout stages for the Americans in Brazil.

A loss or a draw and the US will most likely have to get a result against Germany on Thursday. That’s not a good thing, with Germany most likely also wanting a result. (Standings and schedule below.)

The US comes in still floating off John Brooks’ game-winning header in the 86th minute to give the Americans the 2-1 win over Ghana. That header gave the US a much-needed three points. They continue to sit second in the group (the top two in each group advance to the knockout stages).

Blog: Three keys to the US beating Portugal

But the US lost striker Jozy Altidore to a hamstring injury. Altidore has been ruled out for Sunday’s match. Central defender Matt Besler also left with a hamstring injury, but he is expected to be OK to play.

Portugal's Fabio Coentrao grimaces in pain after being injured during a match against Germany on Monday. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Portugal’s Fabio Coentrao grimaces in pain after being injured during a match against Germany on Monday. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Portugal is expected to also be missing several players. Defender Fabio Coentrao has been ruled out for the tournament after suffering a thigh injury in the team’s opener against Germany. Cristiano Ronaldo, the most recent winner of the Ballon d’Or for the world’s best player, has been suffering with a pair of injuries, most severely a knee injury. On Friday, multiple outlets reported the Portuguese captain was wearing a knee brace during training. He has not been ruled out of the match.

“At the moment we certainly expect that he is going to play,” US midfielder Michael Bradley said in a recent press conference. “A game of this magnitude, of this importance for both teams, you’d always expect that the best players are going to find any way to be on the field.”

Portugal defender Pepe is out after receiving a red card for head butting Germany’s Thomas Muller.

All those missing players should benefit the US, but that’s up to the Americans to take advantage of a depleted Portuguese side.

After Ghana proved how talented they are with a much-deserved draw against Germany, the US should get a bit easier time against Portugal. The US should get more possession, but what they do with that possession will determine their success. Against Ghana the US made poor passes — a lot of them — turning the ball over unnecessarily, which led to Ghana counterattacks and fewer US offensives.

Then there’s the question of who replaces Altidore. Does US coach Jurgen Klinsmann go with Aron Johannsson, who replaced Altidore in the opener, or does he go with 31-year-old Chris Wondolowski, and give the lifetime MLS product a shot at his first World Cup appearance.

United States' striker Chris Wondolowski talks during a press conference on Friday. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

United States’ striker Chris Wondolowski talks during a press conference on Friday. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Johannsson didn’t do much against Ghana. Wondolowski is a great Johnny-on-the-spot type striker who finds holes in defenses and can get his head on the ball.

“Jozy is a special player,” Wondolowski told the Miami Herald. “You can’t (just fill in one player for another). That’s like saying, ‘Hey, go be Cristiano Ronaldo.’”

But neither Johannsson nor Wondolowski need to be Ronaldo. They are both healthy.

 

Group G standings

The Group G final games will be Thursday. Both games will be played simultaneously, preventing any of the four teams from knowing what they need to do or what they could do to ruin another team’s chances.

Team          W   L   D   Pts   GF   GA   GLDif
Germany     1    0   1     4       6      2        +4
USA              1    0  0     3       2      1         +1
Ghana         0    1   1      1       3     4         -1
Portugal      0    1  0     0        0     4         -4

Thursday’s games (all games at 10 a.m.)

Germany v. USA

Ghana v. Portugal

Join Gazette sportswriter Scott Kaniewski at 3:45 p.m. at Gazette.com for a live chat during Sunday’s World Cup game between the United States and Portugal or follow his live commentary on Twitter at @scottkaniewski5