When 2014 World Cup groups were drawn, the US Men’s National Team was facing pretty grim prospects. Sure, they were ranked 14th by FIFA at the time. But they were facing two of FIFA’s top three teams in Portugal and Germany. Add in Ghana, the team that had knocked them out of the last two World Cups, and they were looking at a very difficult task.
Fast-forward to now and what once looked like the Group of Death is looking more like the group of hope. Thanks to an 86th-minute header by reserve defender John Brooks, USA beat their nemesis, Ghana, by a score of 2-1, which has put them atop Group G along with Germany.
Next up is Portugal in a match that could very well decide if the US advances to the knockout round, or if they’ll need some help and an excellent performance against Germany’s powerhouse team. America and Portugal face off on Sunday (June 22nd) at 3:00pm in the heat and humidity of Manaus. That said, let’s take a closer look at this matchup, including the strengths and weaknesses of both teams.
USA: Sharpening their Play is a Must
Strengths – Clint Dempsey got the United States off to a hot start by scoring the fifth quickest goal in World Cup history. Coming from the left flank, he made a marvelous move to the inside and booted the shot in. From here, USA held Ghana for the next 81 minutes, until striker Asamoah Gyan delivered a perfect back heel to André Ayew, who knocked the shot past US keeper Tim Howard.
With the score at 1-1, the Americans finally took to the offensive, which resulted in a corner kick that Brooks headed in for the game-defining score. After a victory over their rivals, confidence is sky-high on the American side and this is one of their greatest attributes.
Another plus for USA is that they feature a scrappy, bend-but-don’t-break defense that held Ghana for most of the match. This is no small feat when you consider that the Ghanaians are among the fastest teams at the 2014 World Cup. Assuming they can show the same amount of effort against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal, they have an excellent shot of at least tying the game, if not winning.
One more strength worth mentioning is their head coach, Jurgen Klinsmann. He’s seen and coached some of the best, including the German team that finished third in the 2006 World Cup. The hard-driving coach is great at motivating his squad and getting the most out of them. Plus, he came up with a pretty good gameplan against Ghana. Can he do the same against Portugal?
Weaknesses – Despite beating Ghana, there was plenty for Klinsmann to pick apart. Aside from the quick goal and beautiful move by Dempsey, the US didn’t put together a very good offensive effort. Their passing was among the sloppiest seen out of any team this summer and they didn’t do a very good job of maintaining possession. This is a huge reason why the Americans were constantly facing pressure from Ghana.
Another problem was the play of midfielder of Michael Bradley. The AS Roma man is one of the best players on this team, however, he looked far from that against Ghana. Bradley made a lot of poor passes and didn’t defend well either. He really needs to come back stronger against Portugal for USA to maintain possession better.
As for injuries, striker Jozy Altidore is out for the foreseeable future with a hamstring injury. And his replacement, Icelandic-American Aron Jóhannsson, didn’t look too impressive in his relief. Dempsey’s broken nose could also be a minor factor since he’ll probably be playing with a mask.
Portugal needs to Battle through Injuries
Strengths – The strength of Portugal lies with their star, Cristiano Ronaldo. Often called the best player in the world, Ronaldo is always a threat to score multiple goals. He showed this with a hat trick in a 4-2 aggregate playoff victory over Sweden that powered the Team of Shields into the 2014 Cup.
Another player to watch for on the Portuguese side is midfielder João Moutinho. He didn’t exactly have the best season for Monaco, however, he’s an exceptional passer who’s just waiting to wake up. Assuming he and Ronaldo are both on versus USA, the American side could be in a lot of trouble.
Weaknesses – Whatever injury concerns that the US has are nothing compared to Portugal. Ronaldo is dealing with a lingering knee issue that’s prevented him from being 100%. Then there’s defender Fabio Coentrao, who will miss the rest of the 2014 World Cup with a groin injury. Coentrao’s injury only hurts worse when you consider that Pepe, the team’s best defender, will also be out against the US after receiving a red card against Germany. If this isn’t bad enough, injured forward Hugo Almeida is likely to miss the rest of the group stage.
Besides all of the injuries, another problem for Portugal will be confidence. They’re coming off of a disastrous 4-0 loss to Germany. To consider the possible effects of this, look at defending champ Spain, which lost 5-1 to the Netherlands, only to follow this up with a 2-0 loss to Chile. Some might say the demolishing by Germany might motivate the Portuguese. But it could easily go the other way too.
USA vs Portugal Betting Prediction
If there were no injuries to account for in this match, Portugal would be the favorite. However, they’ll be without three starters due to injuries and Pepe’s red card, meaning USA will have an easier go of it. The key will be for the Americans to play their best soccer against a depleted team. They’ll also need to take notes on how Germany held Ronaldo in check. Since Ronaldo has less support going into the match, we like the US.
Prediction: USA wins 2-1