The most talked about story lines leading up to this matchup are naturally the absence of several players. On Portugal's side, Pepe is suspended thanks to a boneheaded play (no surprise there), while Fabio Coentrao is out injured. In addition, Cristiano Ronaldo is still struggling with knee problems, goalkeeper Rui Patricio may not be able to go due to a thigh injury, striker Hugo Almeida is a doubt and defender Bruno Alves did not participate in training on Friday. For the Americans, Jozy Altidore has been ruled out with a strained hamstring, while hopes are high for Besler and Bedoya to play. Due to Clint Dempsey's status as a total badass, his broken nose should be a non-issue.
The U.S. has a great opportunity to pick up crucial points in this game, and here are a few things they can do to increase their chances.
Formations and personnel
This match is the perfect opportunity for Klinsmann to reintroduce his version of the 4-2-3-1 formation, which provided a lot of success throughout World Cup Qualifying. With Altidore out, the U.S. doesn't have a like-for-like player to bring in for him (cue the comments about Eddie Johnson and Terrence Boyd). However, Dempsey can play in that spot with a slight variation in his style. Rather than being the strong hold up player who muscles defenders off the ball and waits for support, Dempsey can use his superb ball skills, fancy flicks and any other move that momentarily strikes him to keep defenders at bay and get supporting midfielders involved. He has quite the knack for laying a ball off and then making a good run towards goal. That video does not necessarily exemplify hold-up play, but rather the ability for him to get others involved.
It has been well documented that Michael Bradley struggled against Ghana, and deservedly so. He was constantly caught between two ideas, and gave possession away more times that any of us would like to admit. A few key things about Bradley's performance: he had zero key passes and zero successful through balls. This coupled with the fact that Ghana out-passed the U.S. 510-314, yet each team had 49 long balls should indicate the huge amount of pressure that they were dealing with. In order to keep possession against a depleted Portugal side, Klinsmann must find a way to give Bradley the freedom to work his magic. Placing Beckerman and Jones at the double pivot positions in the 4-2-3-1 could do exactly that. With Bradley situated above them, he can track back and help when needed, but it should also create a pocket for him to orchestrate from. Another possibility the double pivot creates is more opportunities for Fabian Johnson to get forward, and we have already seen the beauty that Johnson and Bradley can create together. This will be important, particularly with much of Portugal's troubles coming along the back line.
Regarding the lone goal conceded against Ghana, there is no doubt it was a sublime finish. However, if Johnson doesn't ball-watch and Howard doesn't prematurely lean to the far post, that goal likely doesn't happen. The last thing that Johnson can afford to do when marking Ronaldo is to ball-watch.
The U.S. must come out with an offensive mindset in this game. I do not mean irresponsibly so, but they cannot afford to bunker, get caught on the counter, and not have time to score a tying goal. With Portugal missing one and possibly two of their starting defenders, the USMNT must take advantage.
One way they can gain an early upper hand is by frustrating Ronaldo. Though certainly one of the world's best talents, Ronaldo is not as skilled in the area of keeping his emotion from affecting his game. We saw it in the Germany game: the red card to Pepe, injuries, and his team getting embarrassed caused him to play out of position the majority of the game, preferring to stay central and try to take on the world's best midfield. His ability may lead us to believe he is something greater than human, but in moments like this, his humanity is on display for all to see.
Jermaine Jones has a lot of say in the way that games go for the national team, perhaps in this one more than most. If he is tasked with playing alongside Beckerman, expect him to put a lot of emphasis on roughing up Ronaldo. With Johnson likely to surge forward at times, the ability of Jones to help on the defensive side will be an area to focus on. If he can play both physical and smart, he can help to slow down Portugal's best player. For those concerned about yellow cards, take a look at these stats: Jones received five yellow cards in his last eight games for Besiktas, but he has a clean slate in his last eight games for the national team. This shows a phenomenal improvement in his performances for the USMNT, as he is still playing rough but without receiving dumb yellow cards that inhibit his style for the rest of the game.
A tie could be almost as good as a win
Now, certainly nothing is as good as a win except, well, a win. But in this case, a tie can greatly help the USMNT's chances of advancing. With Germany dominating Portugal 4-0, the U.S. has the advantage of goal-differential. Assuming that Portugal beats Ghana (which is certainly not guaranteed), and the United States loses to Germany (which is unfortunately a great possibility), the U.S. and Portugal could end the group stage each with four points. As long as the U.S. keeps it relatively close against Germany and Ghana does the same in their last match, the U.S. should be in a safe spot.
I am the last person who would argue that a team should ever play for a tie, particularly when you have someone like Ronaldo who can strike at any time, but in this case a tie isn't a bad result.