Sunday, June 22, 2014

"And Now the Circle is Complete"

The last time the US faced Portugal in the World Cup, it was beginning of the second wave of true-blue soccer love in the USA after the Americans shocked the world with a 3-2 victory over the Portuguese.

Today, they play again, but this time, the US isn't a dark horse to just win a game somewhere - they are now a real danger to show that they are always a real danger to advance, and as it relates to Portugal, a real danger to end their World Cup.

It is interesting to think about - the tables have turned quite a bit, at least in terms of who needs what today. Who in their right mind would have ever thought the mighty Portugal would need a result against the USA to survive.

Heady wine indeed, to think that the team that we found a way to beat (Ghana) was the same team that GERMANY had to fight tooth and nail to salvage a tie against. And that German team punked Portugal 4-0. What does that mean for today?

Okay, deep breath. None of that really matters. Not even the game yesterday, because it will have no effect on whether Fabian Johnson can stay composed against Ronaldo, or DeMarcus Beasley can front Nani, and make no mistake, that is the game today. However the team does it - and I have said that I think it should be with the 4-2-3-1 so we can attack the space behind those two wingers - it really comes down to that.

If our outside fullbacks can keep Ronaldo and Nani in front of them, then odds are the USA is in great shape to not only get a point, but very possibly, get a real win.

Revisiting the Future

One thing that was brought up on World Cup Kickaround on KTCT The Ticket by Dallas Cup Executive Director Andy Swift - a man who knows his World Cup, if there ever was one - is the flow of the group, and where this game is played for Portugal-USA. What does that mean? Well, Ghana is on fire and no matter what happens today, the Black Stars are going to come into Thursdays game ready to chew nails. Very true. 

Additionally, the weather had a marked effect on the teams that previously played at this venue - England and Italy.  Both lost. Now in England's case, you have to give a lot of credit to Luis Suarez. He kinda good, ya? And in Italy's case, you have to give a lot of credit to Costa Rica, but also, it seemed that Italy came in without enough respect for their opponent. So was it the weather or the teams?

You can't take any chances. You have to assume that the weather did in fact have an impact - a pretty fair assumption, in my mind. Even if those other points were solid reasons, they certainly weren't the only reasons for England and Italy's failures.

So that means that Portugal is staring at a loss against Ghana. And odds are that Ghana will make up any goal differential difference in that match as well. Maybe I am overestimating the Ghanians, but I don't think so. Not with the passion, skill and athleticism they played with against Germany. No sir.

So that means we need one of two things. Either a win today or two ties. A tie and a loss - in either direction - will not be enough.

Let's control what we can - find a way to get a win today, leave nothing to chance. Because if we only get a tie, we could very well be in the same place we were in the last two World Cups - out at the hands of Ghana....

Keys to the game

Obviously, we start with the outside fullbacks. (Does Jurgen pull a surprise and play Timmy Chandler at outside fullback, maybe having prepared him to be ready for this massive challenge?) As a subset, does the midfield support that effort? We have to assume that Tim Howard is going to maintain his greatness, but we can't rely on it too much...

Second, when the team does have the ball breaking out, or in general in the middle third, can they hold the ball and find a way to get penetration into the Portuguese defensive third?

Third, and finally, the times they get into the Portugal defensive third, they simply HAVE to be dangerous. Clearly, a goal or two would be fantastic, but this cannot be a reprise of the Ghana match where we are ineffective in the attacking third. Without that danger, Portugal will find a way to get a goal from Nani or Ronaldo - book it.

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