Saturday, June 21, 2014

USA-Portugal - What are we going to do about this?

So yesterday, it was the Reality Check. Truth of the matter is this: a win over Ghana does nothing to change the fact that Portugal - on paper - is a better team, man for man, than the US, even without their injured players.

But as the New York Yankees prove more often than not, on paper means jack squat. Nada. Zilch. Dare I say - Cero. (See what I did there?)

The US has a glorious history of upsets in the World Cup and other major tournaments. England 0, USA 1 in Belo Horizonte is a probably the first, and if you are in-country, you probably can find someone who was there. (What a fantastic story that would be!!!!!) USA 2, Colombia 1 in 1994. Mexico 0, Estados Unidos 2 in Jeonju in 2002. And I would put the USA 1, Italy 1 in 2006 in that list. Down to nine men against the eventual champions? Probably the biggest win on the biggest stage against the biggest opponent wasn't in the World Cup, but it did break Spain's fantastic unbeaten streak in a knockout game - 2-0 in South Africa in 2009.

But the one that many of the Portuguese players will remember is the one that I am pretty sure launched the second wave of US soccer fandom - USA 3, Portugal 2 in Suwon, South Korea.

That is a fun list. It doesn't change the fact that Portugal are a very talented - and right also now, a very scared, injured and desperate - animal. So a lot of the underestimation that possibly played into a number of those other results probably isn't going to be in the air tomorrow night. But it still is enough history that any US fan has reason to believe a result tomorrow is quite possible.

As is Portugal's history of imploding. It is interesting, but one train of thought is that Portugal was so desperate to win the group that they threw everything into a game that shouldn't have mattered. Play the warm up, try to get a tie at worst, win the game if you can, but by all costs, don't lose 4-0 with a red card and a slew of injuries - because if you do, the winning of the other two games - something that should be very attainable - will become not only more difficult, but absolutely necessary.

Make no mistake, a tie does Portugal no good tomorrow. They are in must win mode. Whether they have to win both games will depend on today's match between Germany and Ghana, but on Sunday, no matter what happens today, they have to win. So there SHOULD be as much desperation as possible in the Portuguese side.

Which should play into the hands of the US. And here is where we talk about what the US has to do to get that all important tie or the incredibly awesome over-the-top-ness of a win.

Revert to the 5-2-3-1 and use its flexibility to do two things. First, attack Ronaldo's side. He is a fantastic player, but if he has to spend energy defending, it will be much harder to stay high and focus on that all important finish that he can produce to win the game.

I am not saying all out attack. The line of confrontation should be midfield, not their defending third. But when you do have the ball, attack with purpose, speed, determination. The US attack has to scare the Portuguese enough to commit real players to defense - not only Ronaldo, but also Nani.

And this brings us to the players. Assuming that Bedoya is healthy, then because of what you need to do, you bring in Zusi so that both wingers can drop back to defend and break out in attack. And make sure that Jones knows his first responsibility is defense, but when it is the right time, get into the attack. When operated properly, the 4-2-3-1 allows one side and one d-mid to attack without unbalancing things.

So the one thing that the US has time and again showed it can do - play organized, defensively structured and composed soccer - is the one thing they need to do incredibly well to get a result against Portugal and move closer to doing something unthinkable back in December: advance out of the Group of Death.

And here is the thing that gets me giddy. We have done it a million times to El Tri, including with half our roster injured or out on yellow cards, on the biggest stage ever (for the US) - the Round of 16 in Jeonju. But we also did it to Spain in the Confederations Cup in 2009. And it was by a very familiar scoreline.

Is Dos a Cero possible tomorrow? Absolutely. And although it might not actually be 2-0 - it could be 1-0, or under these circumstances, even 0-0, but getting a result that moves the US closer to advancing is absolutely possible. 

Just remember that the stakes are incredibly high, and every throw in, every tackle, every save is insanely important. And remember how important this is to Portugal. And how much talent they still have remaining, including that just like Messi just did to Iran, Christiano Ronaldo can do to any team, even one with Tim Howard in goal. That danger will ALWAYS be lurking.

So to that end, the importance of every move to neutralize that danger - force him to run to defend, not give away free kicks within 35 yards out (plus or minus), and when you get a chance on goal, finish it like your life depends on it.

Do that, and soccer glory for the USA is there to be had tomorrow.

The last time the US played Portugal in the World Cup, it was a similar opportunity and the Americans took it - although not nearly as many US fans were ready for the wave.

Are you going to be ready for it tomorrow?

Make sure you are - because it could very well be a moment of greatness that they will talk about for decades to come.

I am not saying the US will win. In fact, I am not saying the US is even going to tie - but despite the challenge, despite the opponent, the danger, the quality, the size of the moment, the US has a CLEAR HISTORY of doing so in the past, and is clearly capable of doing so again.

No comments: