By, Kyle Gibson
The remote, Brazilian jungle city of Manaus awaits the second matchup for the US on its quest through the “group of death” against Portugal.
In many cases leading up to this game, the story has been about who would not be on the field. Portugal defenders Pepe (suspension) and Fabio Coentrao (groin) will be out today, but World Player of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo (knee) will play.
Ronaldo will be a handful, but he typically plays a very insular game when he plays for country, choosing not to involve his lesser skilled teammates. Any Ronaldo involvement is dangerous, but might not necessarily be deadly. After all, Jurgen Klinsmann has opted for a formation with two extra defenders, Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman.
Jozy Altidore had a bad hamstring injury against Ghana and will not be ready for Portugal. I expect Klinsmann to slot Clint Dempsey, who broke his nose but will play today, Into that lone striker spot. Graham Zusi, who assisted the winner against Ghana, could fill that place vacated by Dempsey. Brad Davis and maybe Mix Diskerud could fill that midfield area as well, depending on what the US brain trust sees from scouting.
I fully expect to see a lively Portugal side that has to push as hard as it can to both win and score goals to make up from the terrible Germany loss. However, this team is not that tightly knit and could break into squabbles if the US stays resolute.
My prediction: 2-2 draw. I hope I’m wrong, but I just see Ronaldo and conditions being too much today.
The Temperature around kickoff in Manaus should be around 80 degrees, but humidity will play a large factor. Leading up to the match, the conditions have been described as “Dallas in July.”
Keep in mind that the US has been tasked with one of the toughest finishing games of any group: Germany. Any points are required today, in my opinion.
If the US could win and qualify for knockouts before having to play Germany, my breathing pattern will definitely be more regular leading up to Thursday.