Note: I’m a bit late. It was supposed to be Saturday night, but oh well, I couldn’t do it by then. Yeah, I had a while, but I wasn’t able to get it done. Knowing me, it’s a good thing I completed it at all.
Are you excited for this game? You totally should be. Here’s a complete rundown of the compelling clash:
Watch This – why you need to watch this.
Top 5 Storylines – a run-down of basically everything everyone will be talking about before the game.
Why it’s a Must-Win, but Mainly Just for Portugal – a scenario breakdown.
On Julian Green – will the over-hyped youngster play? (Spoiler alert: no.)
It’s Unrealistic – me not talking about Jürgen Klinsmann’s comments.
How will Portugal play? – I delve into the tactics of the US’s Iberian foes.
How will the US play? – I delve DEEP into the tactics of Portugal’s American foes.
Prediction – totally unbiased.
Let me give you a possible advertisement of this game:
“USA. Portugal. Jungle. 5:30 ET on ESPN.”
If you aren’t super-excited to watch it right now, then you aren’t a human.
Top 5 Storylines
5. What will the effects of Manaus, in the Amazon Rainforest, do? (It’s all very unusual and not the optimal conditions–just like CONCACAF. I think it will hurt Portugal more than it will hurt the US.)
4. How will the US replace Jozy Altidore?
3. Can Cristiano Ronaldo score a World Cup goal against a team that’s actually good? Will he even play well at all, or is his injury too bad?
2. Can Portugal stay alive?
1. Can the US clinch, or at least make it hard not to clinch, a knockout round berth from the Group of Certain Death?
Why it’s a Must-Win, but Mainly Just for Portugal
Considering that Germany and Ghana drew, there are three different ways that the table can line up after this game:
(Note: the goal difference, that second number, assumes that the winner of the US-Portugal game wins by 1 goal. All the rest will definitely be accurate if the stated result happens.)
If the US beat Portugal:
This means that US advancement would be clinched, while Portuguese elimination would also be clinched. A draw against Germany would mean that the US would win the group and thus wouldn’t have to play the Group H winner (probably Belgium).
If Portugal beat the US:
In this case, the US would need to beat Germany, or get a draw and hope that multiple other things happen, to advance. A loss against Germany would mean certain elimination if there’s a loss against Portugal. The US can’t lose both games and still advance, while a loss against Portugal would cut the US’s chances in less than half.
-In this scenario, the US would need: a win vs. Germany OR a draw vs. Germany and a Ghana win and goal difference OR a draw vs. Germany and a Portugal-Ghana draw and goal difference.
-In this scenario, Portugal would need: a win vs. Ghana OR a draw vs. Ghana and a Germany win OR a draw vs. Ghana and goal difference.
If the US and Portugal draw:
This would mean that the US and Germany would be in a game to see who wins the group. In this scenario, if neither of the final matches end in draws, the second spot would be decided on goal difference between the winner of the USA-Germany game and the loser of the Ghana-Portugal game.
-In this scenario, the US would need: a draw vs. Germany OR a Portugal-Ghana draw OR goal difference.
-In this scenario, Portugal would need: a win vs. Ghana and a US-Germany non-draw and goal difference.
Observations from the scenarios:
-It is very important for the US to not lose. Yeah, anything can happen, but counting on a result against Germany is like counting on a St. Bernard to manually land a spacecraft on the moon.
-It is very important for Portugal to win. They need a bunch of stuff to happen to qualify if they get a draw, and if they lose, they’re out.
-Goal difference is very important. That’s why Thomas Muller, who put 3 past Portugal, might be the US’s most important player this World Cup. Portugal have a huge goal difference hole to climb out of. It’s a very hard group, with four teams that could each advance out of most groups, so big margins don’t come easily. This means that Portugal probably won’t climb out of their goal difference hole, which means that the US can get a draw in this game and have a very good chance to advance.
On Julian Green
Looking at my website’s stats, I can see who has found my website from different search terms. Someone found it by inquiring if Julian Green will start vs. Portugal. Answer? Not a chance.
In fact, I very, very highly doubt that Green will play a single minute, and if he does it’s in garbage time when the US is already probably 3 goals up or down, probably against his beloved Germany so that he can have his special moment. I’m sorry if that last bit sounded bitter. It didn’t? Well, it was meant to sound bitter, and I’m sorry for it.
As I said in my epic post about Green and Donovan, he doesn’t belong in the World Cup. He’s been terrible, and he has no experience above the German 4th division. And yes, I totally understand the German league system, with the Regionalliga and all. That’s not good enough for the US national team.
And on the part where I said “he’s been terrible,” you might say that I’m being too hard on him. No, I’m not. But, but, he’s just a kid! No, he isn’t. He’s a World Cup player. This isn’t a U-20 tournament. This isn’t a friendly camp. It’s the World Cup. If he’s selected for the World Cup, either the coach is delusional or he really is at World Cup level, in which case he must be held up to that standard. I’m not saying that he’s a bad person or that he won’t be good in the future, in fact he seems like a good kid and a promising talent, but he just isn’t good enough.
I watch MLS, and I will tell you that Diego Fagundez seems to be a much better player than Green. Fagundez plays for the New England Revolution, he’s only a few months older than Green, and if he had US eligibility (he’s working on it) I’d say he deserves to go to the World Cup more than Julian Green.
But for better or worse, Julian Green is on the World Cup squad. I seriously doubt he’ll get any minutes.
Don’t believe me? Well, if he was going to get playing time at the World Cup, don’t you think they would’ve played him for more than 27 minutes in the friendlies? Only the third-string goalkeeper played less than Green! Aron Jóhannsson was the only other outfield player to not play at least 45 minutes in the friendlies, and that was because of fitness issues. John Brooks, who wasn’t originally intended to even play, was the only player to play in the Ghana game without at least 100 minutes of playing time in the three warm-up games.
This is a guarantee: Julian Green will not play any meaningful minutes in this World Cup.
I had something written up basically detailing why the US will more than likely not win the World Cup, why that is okay (we don’t have nearly as good players as the better teams), why I’m not communist, and why everyone is making such a big deal out of Jürgen Klinsmann’s comments (if he says that the US will win the World Cup, then he’s setting himself up for failure).
I deleted all of that because everyone who follows soccer knows that the US probably won’t win the World Cup, that that’s okay (for now, at least), that I’m not a communist for thinking that, and that people like to make really big deals out of people’s comments.
How Will Portugal Play?
Probably like this:
There are a few lineup questions:
-Is goalkeeper Rui Patricio healthy? If not, they’ll go with Eduardo or Beto. The former has more experience with Portugal’s team, while the latter just won the Europa League. Tim Howard is better than all three. I’d even say that Brad Guzan is better than at least one or two of them, if not all three.
-Will the striker be Eder or Helder Postiga? Probably Eder, based mainly on the fact that he came on for Hugo Almeida when he got injured last game.
-Will Vieirinha make a surprise start in place of Nani?
-Will perhaps the youngster William Carvalho start ahead of Miguel Veloso?
-Will Luis Neto indeed start at center-back, or will we see Ricardo Costa, who is 7 years older than Neto?
And here are a few points about their players:
-Cristiano Ronaldo is the star for Portugal. No question. He’s had some injury problems, but he should still carry the team. He was mostly ineffective against Germany, and while some of that is due to his health, a lot of that is probably because Germany are one of the best teams in the world. Ronaldo doesn’t stay on the left. He will solidly make life miserable for everyone on the opponents’ defense.
-Warning: I often call Cristiano Ronaldo “CR7.” Why? because “Ronaldo” makes it sound like I’m talking about the Brazilian, “Cristiano” sounds like I know the guy, and I don’t want to say “Cristiano Ronaldo,” which has more syllables than World Cups Portugal has played in, ten times every paragraph.
-#8 Joao Moutinho is the playmaker. He’s the guy that runs the show from central midfield.
-Raul Meireles, #16 with the interesting beard, hair, and tattoos, is a box-to-box midfielder. He’s good at a lot of things, not really great at anything, but he’s a useful player both ways. Especially defensively.
-The other guy they play, probably #4 Miguel Veloso, will be the defensive midfielder. This will be the player who Michael Bradley will need to evade. They might play William Carvalho in this position.
-They’re normally especially good on the left side with the all-Real Madrid pairing of Fabio Coentrao and CR7. With Coentrao out for the tournament, it will be interesting to see how #19 Andre Almeida will do.
-Not only is Coentrao out, but their Real Madrid center-back Pepe is suspended due to a red card (typical Pepe stuff, nothing to see here). Half of their backline, and maybe their goalkeeper, will be new, so their teamwork will be vital.
-This Portugal team likes to attack down the wings, and they’re deadly on the counter. America’s weakness defensively seems to be down the wings, so they should change that. Also, they can’t send too many numbers forward. Even 75% CR7 can crush a team on the counter.
-Another thing: Portugal seem, to me anyways, like they can easily get frustrated. They don’t seem to have a good “team spirit,” shall we say. Cristiano Ronaldo is the captain, Pepe is the best defender, and that kind of tells you everything you need to know about the Portuguese team.
-So, they get frustrated easily and they’re great on the counter? Then the US should sit back and force Portugal to try and break them down.
How Will the US Play?
The team has normally played in a Squishy Diamond that is authoritatively called a 4-3-2-1, 4-4-2 diamond, 4-2-2-2, or a 4-2-3-1 depending on who it is. Yeah, it’s weird how everyone is so sure about what formation it is, yet they all say different things. But they’re all right. It’s all of those formations. It’s a Squishy Diamond. It morphs into these different formations as the game goes on, because it’s squishy. In the last game, against Ghana, we saw Michael Bradley drop back and make it a flat 4-4-2 at times.
I’ll get to the Altidore thing. Be patient. First, I’d like to discuss the simplest thing about how the US will play: the formation.
Will they stick with the Squishy Diamond? It retains the back four of Beasley-Besler-Cameron-Johnson, or their backups, with Beckerman in the calm defensive role, Jones in the DESTROYEVERYTHING!!! role, Bedoya/Zusi as the right winger, Bradley as the box-to-box playmaker, and then Dempsey and someone else at striker. I’ll show the formations, but first I’ll get to the other options. After that I’ll talk personnel.
Do they play a 4-2-3-1, with Dempsey as the lone striker, Bradley in a #10 role, and then two wingers? Behind them would be the back six (defenders + Jones and Beckerman) as per usual.
Here’s my idea: the Stretchy Diamond. I’ll display these formations in pictures before I tell you what that is:
The Stretchy Diamond is like the diamond, except it’s stretched. It’s like a 4-4-2, with an attacking central midfielder, a defensive central midfielder, and defensive wingers. You can also call it a 4-3-1-2.
The most interesting thing is the personnel I’ve listed. I’ll get to that now.
The idea of my Stretchy Diamond is to close down the wings. Portugal attack through the wings. DaMarcus Beasley was isolated a lot against Ghana. What happens if Cristiano Ronaldo gets isolated against a US full-back? I’m not saying he’ll definitely score, but if it happens, say, 5 times, I doubt the scoreline won’t be affected.
So I have a defensive right winger. Sure, Bedoya and Zusi can defend well, but inserting someone who’s basically another full-back means that the real full-back won’t have many chances to mess up (lots of goals that the team have conceded have come off of errors from the full-backs–like Johnson’s error against Ghana). I also move over Jones as a defensive left-midfielder, as opposed to a left defensive-midfielder, if that makes any sense.
Fabian Johnson is a must-start because he’s good defensively and vital offensively. But he makes errors defensively. Now, again, I said he’s a must-start so don’t say that I hate him. I don’t. But he makes errors defensively. If there was basically a second full-back alongside him, then he wouldn’t be isolated.
You can do lots of things to create this formation:
-Add John Brooks to the starting line-up, pair him with Besler, move Geoff Cameron to right-back, and Johnson to right midfielder.
-Same as above, but with Omar Gonzalez at center-back. This keeps it lefty-righty, and we’ve seen Gonzalez’s best performances alongside Besler, but the very idea of Gonzalez starting gives me shivers, considering the fact that his club and more importantly national team form over the last several months has been bad. Like, open the windows bad.
-Add DeAndre Yedlin, the speedy yet inexperienced Seattle right-back, to right midfield.
-If you want to rest Jones or Beckerman, you can have the guy you aren’t resting at central defensive midfield, have Fabian Johnson at left-midfielder, insert Yedlin at right-midfield, move Cameron to right-back, and then doing either Besler-Brooks or (gulp) Besler-Gonzalez at centerback.
None of this will probably happen, though. So I’ll talk about real personnel decisions, going from back to front:
Besler, Brooks, or Both?
Matt Besler is considered the rock in the defense. Most people agree that if he’s healthy he plays. But, is he healthy? He came off at halftime vs. Ghana. He’ll be officially okay for the Portugal game, but I’m not convinced that he really will be able to play.
Keeping the team’s best defender on the bench might be made easier by John Brooks. In addition to scoring the goal, in the 90 minutes he’s played in the last 4 games he’s looked fairly solid. Not without errors, but a couple minor mistakes won’t cause as much damage as aggravating Besler’s injury and having to burn a sub after 10 minutes Costa-style would cause.
Could they do both? Playing them both would be either to rest Cameron, who was apparently sick for the Ghana game, or to move Cameron out to right-back, where he plays for Stoke. Moving Cameron to right-back would be either to rest Johnson, or to move Johnson to left-back (to rest Beasley) or to move Johnson to the midfield (to create a defensive formation similar to my Stretchy Diamond).
Why am I pretty sure that only one of them will start? Because Jürgen Klinsmann hasn’t played two center-backs with the same preferred foot since the second half vs. Mexico back in April. Besler and Brooks are both left-footed (Cameron and Gonzalez are both right-footed) so I doubt that either of them would play without a right-footed partner. I’m pretty sure that Klinsmann’s reasoning for that is so that they can take up the full-back positions if needed, so that the full-backs can go forward more.
Zusi, Bedoya, or…Davis?
If Klinsmann goes with the Squishy Diamond, only one of these guys will play, and it will be one of the right-sided ones, Zusi or Bedoya. If he only plays one striker in a 4-2-3-1, two of these guys will play.
Alejandro Bedoya has seemed to be the favorite on the right side, starting the last friendly (first game with the Squishy Diamond) and the game against Ghana. But Zusi has also seen a lot of time under Klinsmann, and with him getting the assist on the winner, plus Bedoya with seeming to be cramping up last game, I could certainly see the Nantes midfielder being rested in favor of the one from Sporting Kansas City.
In a 4-2-3-1, or in an attacking diamond, we could see Zusi on the right and Bedoya on the left, like what we saw against Azerbaijan, but then again we could also see Brad Davis. He’s a set piece and service master, and while he’s not that good athletically or speed-wise, he plays in Houston, which is probably the closest thing in the US, or at least in MLS, that you can get to Manaus.
There’s a lot to criticize about Brad Davis’s ability, which is magnified due to the omission of Landon Donovan, but they’re different players (Klinsmann was always going to call in a left-footed winger, Davis beat out Shea and Torres, not Donovan) and there’s also a lot to praise about Brad Davis, namely his magical left foot. Is that enough?
What about Mix?
The Norwegian-American Mix Diskerud, a fan favorite, is a quality player. He wears the number 10, and it’s accurate: he’s the closest thing Klinsmann has to a central midfield playmaker. He’s one of the few players on this team who can relatively-consistently play that magical pass; that ball sent in that takes several defenders out of the play and sets up a fairly easy chance to score.
He rarely starts, however, and for good reason. He isn’t the best defensively, so playing him behind two forwards would be poor unless it’s against a weak bus-parking team, and playing him any other way would require only one true striker.
Mix, to me, totally seems like someone who will come off the bench in the 60th minute, and break down the Portuguese defense. Have you heard that this game is being played in Manaus, in the Amazon Rainforest? Players will get very tired, and I think that giving the creative Diskerud 30 minutes at 100% to break down the tired Portuguese would be more effective than him spending the first 60 minutes tiring out with them.
No question he starts, but how good will he be?
Bradley had a poor game against Ghana, at least in the attack, but I think that that fact makes it more likely that he’ll play great going forward. As I said in my last post, he’s gotten all his mistakes out of the way. Ballon d’Or performances from here on out, everyone.
How do you Replace Jozy Altidore?
You can’t. His hold up play is like no one else in the team.
Please don’t mention Landon Donovan. He can’t do hold-up play. Green’s role was the one that Donovan would’ve been in. But Terrence Boyd and Eddie Johnson are probably the 2nd and 3rd best players at Altidore’s role, and neither of them made the 23. EJ didn’t even make the 30.
So, does that mean that the US just plays with 10 against Portugal? No, of course not. There are three options, basically:
Pros: this is the player I would choose. He can score goals. Pepe is out with a red card suspension, so Portugal will have an inexperienced center-back partnership. They will probably make mistakes. Wondo is the perfect player on this team to capitalize on mistakes.
Cons: I can’t think of many. Sure, he lacks physicality, but so does Jóhannsson. And sure, he lacks speed in comparison to Jóhannsson, but he isn’t slow. You can also say that Wondo doesn’t offer much outside of goal-scoring, but did you watch the Ghana game? Jóhannsson didn’t do all that great.
Yeah, every “con” has a qualifier. Can you blame me? I want Wondo to start.
Pros: he’s been scoring goals like crazy in the Eredivisie. He’s supposedly full of confidence. He’s young. He looks like Kevin Bacon.
Cons: he was non-existent against Ghana. And yeah, I know that he hadn’t warmed up, and that Bradley, the link between defense and offense, was poor in distribution, and that Ghana closed down on the US midfield, but still. Only 1 shot the entire game. Also, they don’t play defense in the Eredivisie. I doubt that he can play as the lone striker in the World Cup. He’s said himself that he prefers to play behind the main forward.
-Clint Dempsey as the #9 in a 4-2-3-1
Pros: moving Deuce from floating 9.5 up front allows for another midfielder. He’s the best goalscorer on the team. No arguments, he is.
Cons: I hate the idea of playing him central. I much prefer Dempsey as the second striker; floating around, combining with the midfield, getting into goalscoring positions by running in behind the main striker. And you can say “play him as a false 9” all day, but you need to be a possession team to play with a false 9. Let Deuce be Deuce and play Wondo up top.
Well, okay, I clearly have my mind made up. I’ll go all the way:
USA 3-2 Portugal.
22’ WONDO (Zusi)
43’ Ronaldo (Ronaldo)
62’ Ronaldo (Ronaldo)
73’ WONDO (Diskerud)
90’ Deuce (Diskerud)
That’s it. Any thoughts? Predictions? Questions? Threats? I’ll get back to regularly scheduled programming soon.