After Memorable Win, the US Sets Sights on Portugal

What a game and what a victory! After being knocked out of the World Cup the last two times by Ghana, the third time was definitely the charm.  The US desperately wanted this win.  They needed to get at least a point out of this match, but they got three.  It was an important step in traversing through the "Group of Death."  Concerns still surfaced throughout this game, but the US won, and that is all that matters. 

The US started off with a bang as Clint Dempsey scored a goal within the first 30 odd seconds against Ghana.  The Black Stars then settled down and started being very dangerous.  The US didn't play the greatest game and was weakened by numerous injuries and rampant exhaustion.  Ghana had most of the possession time this game, and their dangerous speed and attacking prowess led to a goal in the 82nd minute by Andre Ayew.  Jurgen Klinsmann had been stressing the importance of getting three points in this first group stage game; that hope looked all but over.  

Captain America A.K.A Clint Dempsey Scores the 1st Goal

Ghana kept attacking and looked dangerous the rest of the game.  The US looked like they would have to settle for a draw.  That changed in dramatic fashion.  On a US corner, Defender John Brooks headed in the go-ahead goal to beat Ghana in the 86th minute.  Brooks is only 21 and is very inexperienced.  Klinsmann has been criticized for deciding to bring him to Brazil.  Everyone is very glad he did.  The US hung on and played good enough defense to knock-off Ghana in a game that will be remembered for a long time.  

Brooks' Game-Winning Goal With Time Winding Down

Questions and concerns became evident in this game such as the absence of possession time for the US, injuries of Jozy Altidore, Matt Besler, and others, and the United State's ability to cope with the conditions of Brazil.  It wasn't the cleanest game as mistakes and miscues occurred frequently, but as former USMNT player Alexi Lalas said about the match,

"No,  it wasn't progressive or new. But I don't care. It was American. It was who we are. It was beautiful."

While the win was a huge result for the US, Klinsmann and crew don't have much time to celebrate right now.  They have to face Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal in Manaus in the Amazonian rainforest on Sunday night.  There are some key concerns heading into this match for both teams in what will prove to be a very important game. 

Portugal comes into the game after a depressing and demoralizing start to say the least.  They lost their first group stage match at the hands of the powerful Germans, 4-0.  As evidenced by the final score, this game was never close.  While Portugal has to mentally heal from a terrible loss, they also are faced with several other challenges as well.  For one, they lost starting defender Pepe because of a red card attained when he head-butted German star Thomas Muller in Monday's game.  Portugal also lost another starter in D Fabio Coentrao to an injury.  

Fortunately for Portuga, they have arguably the best player in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo who reportedly will be 100 percent for the game against the United States.  He will be leaned upon by his team to help advance the Seleccao Das Quinas out of the "Group of Death." He is surrounded by other notables such as F Helder Postiga and M Joao Moutinho.  

Cristiano Ronaldo Is Portugal's X-factor

For the US, they will have to play without star forward Jozy Altidore who went down with a hamstring injury in the Ghana game.  It looks like the 23-year old Aron Johannsson will take his place just like he did in the rest of the Ghana match although he didn't seem to have any impact.  On the other hand, will Jurgen Klinsmann decide to put in a veteran like Chris Wondolowski in to replace him? ESPN soccer analyst Taylor Twellman even wonders if 18-year-old Julian Green could be put in Altidore's slot.  

A key storyline in this game is how the US defense will handle a world-class striker in Ronaldo.  The US defense has been much maligned leading up to the World Cup but had a strong showing in the game against Ghana.  Good news also is that D Matt Besler who left the game will be fine for the game on Sunday.  The question mark is the left side of the US defense with DeMarcus Beasley.  Beasley seemed to be somewhat of a liability against Ghana.  Will he be able to defend the Portuguese adequately?

One of the keys to this game is how will Portugal respond after the Germany debacle.  Will they be so demoralized that it will affect their play? Or will they come back angry and with a chip on their shoulder with something to prove? Also, which Ronaldo will we see - the one that appeared virtually non-existent in the game against Germany or the one that carried his team on his shoulders in qualifiers?

This game will be very important for both teams respectively.  For the US, if Germany beats Ghana on Saturday, and they beat Portugal, they are guaranteed a spot in the round of 16.  For Portugal, a win would be a redemptive spark that could unite the Portugese and help them get out of the group.  Either way, both teams desperately need the points in this game.  Will Klinsmann's young US squad ride momentum and get a win or will Ronaldo carry his beloved nation to a beautiful 3 points?  Time will tell. 

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