U.S. soccer team gears up for showdown with Portugal
Clint Dempsey is expected to play for the U.S., which can advance to the next round of the World Cup with a victory over Portugal.
Special to The Seattle Times
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MANAUS, Brazil — United States coach Jürgen Klinsmann certainly raised eyebrows when he replaced captain and striker Clint Dempsey with midfielder Jermaine Jones at the official pregame news conference Saturday.
Dempsey suffered a broken nose in the Americans’ opening 2-1 Group G World Cup victory over Ghana on Monday.
“No, no, Clint is all good, good to go,” Klinsmann said. “We’re just trying to rotate the players for you guys.”
Dempsey hasn’t spoken to the media since he scored in the match, while Jones has met the media at least once since.
Perhaps Klinsmann did not want the Seattle Sounders standout to give away any details of what he has planned for Portugal in the vital encounter, though Dempsey is not expected to wear a protective mask.
Klinsmann also has some decisions to make to replace injured striker Jozy Altidore (left hamstring strain). He has the option of starting Aron Johannsson or Chris Wondolowski or use five midfielders instead of the usual four and utilize Dempsey as the lone forward.
Not surprisingly, Klinsmann wasn’t about to divulge any important information until an hour before the 3 p.m. kickoff Sunday.
After Ghana’s (0-1-1) surprising 2-2 draw with Group G favorite Germany (1-0-1) Saturday, the Americans (1-0) can book a spot in the Round of 16 with a victory over Portugal (0-1) at Arena Amazonia.
“Just another motivating factor,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “It just gets us through the group. That gives us everything.”
If the Americans prevail, they would register two group-stage victories in the same World Cup for the second time since they accomplished the feat in the 1930 Cup.
A tie would not be as good, but it would push the U.S. one step closer to getting out of group play.
Klinsmann, who left the news conference to watch the end of the Germany-Ghana match, returned to the room with a smile.
“It just confirms what we all knew from the beginning,” he said. “It is a very difficult group. It puts the positive result against Ghana (a 2-1 victory) in the right perspective. It’s a huge opportunity.”
The heat, however, is on big time for Portugal and striker Cristiano Ronaldo, who have their backs to the wall.
“Either we win or we start making our suitcase,” Portugal coach Paulo Bento said. “If we draw, we practically pack our suitcase.”
Klinsmann, a former World Cup winner as a player who directed Germany to a third-place finish in 2006 as a coach, understood what was at stake.
“This is now the moment where you can prove yourself,” he said. “This is the moment where you can step up and play those guys and put them in place. We want to put Cristiano and his team in place. ... We want to make it our game. We’re not worried about any of the other players at all.”
Howard, a former teammate of Ronaldo on Manchester United, said the Portuguese superstar has every skill in the book.
“We are going to do our best to bottle him up, which hasn’t been done in four or five years,” he said. “But we’re going to see what we can do.”
Lost in the spotlight on Ronaldo is that Portugal could miss as many as five players. Goalkeeper Rui Patricio (muscle) and two key defenders — Pepe (red-card suspension) and Fabio Coentrao (thigh injury) — are definitely sidelined.