USMNT Looks to Make History Versus Portugal


Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The United States men’s soccer team has never advanced into the knockout stage of consecutive World Cup tournaments. This 2014 World Cup squad has the chance to change that on Sunday when they meet Portugal in their second match of group play in Manaus.

It wasn’t pretty for most of the match but the USMNT got the result they wanted to begin the tournament. With their thrilling 2-1 victory over Ghana in the opening match of Group G play (thank you Graham Zusi/John Brooks), the United States grabbed an enormous three points and put themselves in excellent position to advance beyond the group. History tells us that around 85% of teams that win their opening match go on to play in the knockout stage, something that certainly bodes well for the Americans.

Just about everybody who took a look at Group G prior to the World Cup would have said Germany is coming out on top and that’s still the likely outcome. The second advancing spot was originally thought by many to go to Portugal (except for us confident Americans), but the Portuguese put themselves in a precarious situation after a complete debacle in their first match. They lost to Germany by a score of 4-0, not only losing but taking a -4 in goal differential, which serves as the tiebreak in the event two teams have the same number of points after the group stage finishes. They’ll even have to play without their starting centerback Pepe, who was red-carded for a head butt.

The U.S. victory didn’t come without its price, however. Jozy Altidore is unable to play in this game and possibly the rest of the tournament with a hamstring injury and Clint Dempsey’s nose was broken. The guy is stuck breathing out of one nostril in the middle of the rain forest and temperatures above 80 degrees with high humidity but Dempsey is a warrior and will play on Sunday. We can look for Aron Johannsson and/or Chris Wondolowski attempting to get into the scoring area as replacements for Altidore up front. Jozy’s shoes are big ones to fill and it will take maximum effort and execution from all eleven on the pitch to accomplish the goal versus a Portugal team that is down but not out.

An advantage for Jurgen Klinsmann and his team is the fact that Portugal has no choice but to score a plethora of goals and get the win. They absolutely have to be the victors at this point and they need to be by multiple goals to make up that awful differential. We can expect them to come out and attack from the onset, looking to score early and often on the Americans. Its beneficial knowing what the opponent needs to do and Portugal knows what the U.S. needs too, but it’s so much less urgent. The Americans earned the right to not have to fight for their lives in this second match but play their brand of soccer without the same strict requirements their opponent is dealing with.

Something the Americans can absolutely not afford to do is lose outright to the Portuguese and force themselves to win against big, bad Germany. The U.S. can all but seal the deal into the next stage of the tournament if they win, with them having six points and effectively eliminating Portugal. Even a tie is a great sign for the Americans and could eventually help propel them into the next round as they don’t allow Portugal to get any closer on goal differential or on total points with just one game left to play.

These are exciting times here in the states, where soccer isn’t immensely popular like it is around the world but is picking up steam during the World Cup and especially with the early success of our team. We’ll all be watching with bated breath as our fellow Americans look to make U.S. soccer history in Brazil and take the next step in this tournament. Get your red, white and blue clothing on and get patriotic. Screw it, drape a flag around your back like a cape and watch our boys down in South America as we look to knock off Ronaldo and get ourselves closer to the round of 16.