10 Things You Need to Know Before USA vs Portugal

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I’m going to assume you’re a US fan. And I’m going to assume that during Sunday’s USA vs Portugal game, you, like me, will be wearing red, white and blue and shouting at a big screen, be it in a bar, at a public screening or at home with that 56-inch TV you bought just for the World Cup. And I’m going to assume that you are both nervous, excited and can’t wait for it to hurry up and be 6 p.m. already.

To help pass the time and prepare for the game, here are 10 things you need to know before USA vs. Portugal kicks off.

1. US Captain Clint Dempsey will play with a broken nose
As one wonderful meme summed it up: “Some players pretend they are injured. Clint Dempsey pretends he is not.” When you see this man on your screen, you salute him.

2. We should hope Cristiano Ronaldo starts
Over at AmericanSoccerNow, Noah Davis makes a strong case that the US has a better chance of success if Ronaldo plays. Why? He’s not at full-strength (still got that sore knee) and he seems to paralyze the rest of the Portugal team because they all defer to his Ballon d’Or.

3. And we shouldn’t focus on him too much
If we have one U.S. player man-mark Cristiano Ronaldo and follow him around the field like a lost puppy, that’s asking for trouble. Because Ronaldo likes to wander, and we should be trying to maintain a solid defensive shape, not get pulled in all directions. It’s going to be more about team defense and setting up Kyle Beckerman- and Michael Bradley-shaped roadblocks at the top of the box, where Ronaldo wants to build himself a runway to shoot at goal. Send him down the outside instead, where he’ll have to taxi and wait for a takeoff that never comes. Like when you’re trying to fly out of JFK.

4. Jozy Altidore is injured …
The US striker/target/source of national hope and frustration finally found the net and his form just in time for the World Cup. Then he pulled a hamstring 20 minutes into the Ghana game, so there’s a good chance we don’t see Josmer take the field again this tournament.

5. But that’s OK, for this game at least
Tactics guru The Shin Guardian makes a compelling case that the way to beat Portugal is to draw center-backs Bruno Alves and Ricardo Costa out of the back-line and exploit the space behind their approaching middle-aged legs. Germany did that by playing no recognized striker for Portugal to man-mark. For the US, that means fielding attackers who like to drop deep and find space, as opposed to a target-man like Jozy who stand next to a center back. Altidore’s replacement Aron Johannsson loves to drop deep, so keep an eye on the center backs to see if they follow him.

6. Portugal will also be missing players
Pepe is suspended for acting like Pepe in Porugal’s first game. That’s why Ricardo Costa will play center-back instead. Left back Fabio Coentrão has a groin injury that has ended his World Cup and that’s huge for the US—Coentrão and Ronaldo have a near-telepathic understanding as they also play together down Real Madrid’s left flank. First-choice striker Hugo Almeida is also injured, which means they’ve lost their own target man.

7. But we should definitely keep an eye on Helder Postiga
Though Postiga can’t hold the ball up like Almeida would have, he’s one of those sneaky types that sniffs around the six-yard box and pounces on any opportunities with extreme prejudice. That means any silly error from a U.S. defender could end in national heartbreak. No pressure Geoff Cameron!

8. And we’ll need to work hard to close down Portugal’s passing midfielders
Both Miguel Veloso and João Moutinho are know for playing through balls so sweet, they give defenders diabetes. Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley and either Alejandro Bedoya or Graham Zusi are the insulin on this situation, and will have to work hard to prevent those Portuguese midfielders from sending sugar balls through our defense.

9. This game is set up perfectly for the USA
Though Ghana were theoretically the US’s weakest opponent in Group G, Portugal’s style plays into US strengths much more than the Black Stars ever did. Portugal love to counter-attack, hate trying to break teams down. If the US can be patient, force Portugal to attack down the wings by denying space through the middle (as they did for 81 minutes against Ghana) then Portugal could get ever more desperate and throw ever more men forward. Then the US just has to pick them off with one Michael Bradley through ball.

10. DaMarcus Beasley might be our good luck charm
It was 12 years ago, in a different World Cup, with different players, but the USA has beaten Portugal in a World Cup once before. Well, not completely different players. The only man to play in that game who will take the field on Sunday is DaMarcus Beasley. Here’s USA 3-2 Portugal, from 2002:

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