United States, Portugal, Jurgen Klinsmann, Cristiano Ronaldo, the depths of the Amazon. What more could you want as a plot for a World Cup game?
How about a win-and-you’re-in scenario for Team USA?
That’s the case for the US. While the task in front of them isn’t an easy one, it’s definitely a realistic one. Here’s our three tasks the US must accomplish to pull out the win on Sunday in Manaus, Brazil, to advance to the knockout stages without having to worry about that third Group G game.
1. Contain Cristiano
No surprises here.
Reports are claiming Ronaldo is going to play Sunday despite leg injuries and practicing with a knee brace recently.
Another story claims a Portuguese doctor advised Ronaldo that continuing to play on the knee could damage his career.
Regardless, Ronaldo will play. The Portuguese must win. No way does he sit. And the US must deal with him. Fine. They can.
Ronaldo loves to attack from the right. But he’s got the freedom to roam wherever he wants. It’ll be up to the US to slow him down, wear him down, frustrate him so bad he opts not to come out the second half.
That job will mostly fall on defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman. The Real Salt Lake man shouldn’t necessarily shadow Ronaldo, but he should keep tabs on the reigning Ballon d’Or winner. But it can’t fall on just Beckerman’s shoulders. The rest of the midfield must help Beckerman, limiting Ronaldo’s touches and cutting down his passing lanes.
It also means the US must limit the number of free kicks they offer the Portuguese, because that’s where Ronaldo will really shine.
2. Play the possession game
The United States missed Michael Bradley badly against Ghana. And still came out with the 2-1 victory. Here’s a strong guess the main man in the middle for the US doesn’t go missing again.
First, Bradley must find ways to get open to receive balls to run the US offense. Second, he can’t make as many errant passes as he did against Ghana. Too often he turned the ball over, and soon after the US defenders were under siege again.
Bradley is the man in charge of leading the US’ possession game. He’s the one who distributes to the strikers and plays the ball out wide to open the attack.
But it wasn’t just Bradley. The US messed up their chance at possession throughout the squad. Part of that was Ghana’s relentlessness to force the US to pass. The Black Stars did it against Germany and came out with a 2-2 draw on Saturday.
Against Portugal, the US needs to hold on to the ball as long as possible. Make the Portuguese defense work at defending the way the US worked at defending against Ghana. Defending is hard enough work. Defending in the thick humidity of Manaus will be downright exhausting. Which brings us to our third and final point.
3. Know when to hold ‘em
At 6 p.m. Manaus time, the temperature at kickoff is expected to be 79 degrees. Doesn’t sound so bad, right? Did we mention the 83 percent humidity factor?
The city of Manaus is located in the heart of the Amazon. The two best ways to get there are by plane and by boat.
Hopefully the US went back and watched the Italy-England game. Throughout that match, players looked to be walking through gelatin. You could almost see them cutting swaths through the mugginess.
Part of that was because of the humidity. Part of it was probably by design. If the game isn’t right in front of you or coming your way, walk, don’t jog. Conserve that energy. Because in the last 15 minutes, you’re going to need it.
Italy went into a defensive shell the last 15, holding on to that 2-1 lead, and England couldn’t take advantage. The English were worn out and couldn’t sustain a threatening attack in those waning minutes.
If the US can take care of those three things, they won’t have to worry about replacing Jozy Altidore or worry about whether coach Klinsmann brought the right players.
They won’t even have to worry about that upcoming match with Germany.
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