The U.S. earned three points against Ghana. Portugal looked feeble in a 4-0 loss to Germany. The Yanks are in prime position to advance with a draw in the second match. However, Portugal is still Portugal. The USMNT remains the USMNT. Here are five reasons not to pencil the U.S. through quite yet.
This Guy… Stars have performed at the 2014 World Cup. More accurately, there has been a stream of defensive mistakes. Stars have kept focus and capitalized on them. Cristiano Ronaldo may not be 100 percent fit. But, whatever percentage of him shows up can still be an assassin. One U.S. fullback getting caught up field, one midfielder losing the plot or one bad foul outside the box could be game over.
The Pattern… The last seven U.S. World Cup matches, dating back to the Italy draw in 2006, have been frantic, butt-clenching affairs. Americans assert their style of play on the opponent. Their style of play creates a vortex of chaos, over which they exert little control. There is no special “American” skill to winning those type of matches. Sometimes the fates are on America’s side. (Ghana 2014, Algeria 2010) Sometimes they are not (Ghana 2006, 2010).
Portugal is More Talented and More Accomplished… Portugal looked plodding and pedestrian playing Germany. The U.S. is not Germany. Pepe is suspended. Fabio Coentrao is injured. The Portuguese will still roll out multiple Champions League winners, a number of European league title winners and players with experience going deep into major tournaments. The U.S., in contrast, has been raiding German academies for a talent infusion. That tight, claws out game the U.S. incites? That’s exactly the sort Portugal prefers.
The U.S. Has No Striker… Jozy Altidore was a question mark entering the tournament, after an atrocious season at Sunderland. He’s injured, and none of the options for replacing him inspires confidence. Especially not sending Clint Dempsey up front to bang around while breathing through his mouth and protecting a busted nose. We know the U.S. must score to win. They showed little capacity to create chances from open play against Ghana.
The U.S. Has a Shaky Back Four… Ghana attacked early and often to DeMarcus Beasley’s side of the field. With better execution on final balls, Ghana would have won. The U.S. choices at left back are Timmy Chandler (more likely to mistakes) or Old Man DeMarcus (less able to recover from mistakes). That’s before you get to the inexperienced center back pairing or the erratic midfield coverage.