With Italy's disappointing effort against Costa Rica I know turn my attention to the US Men's National Team who on Sunday evening can do something rather special for the growth of this game and the progress of their football. I would try and find some sort of analogous quote from Neil Armstrong to inspire, but frankly it isn't worth it. For the first time in a long time there is an excitement about this team not as an underdog or a sideshow, but as a real TEAM. With the big emphasis being on team.
On Sunday they take on a Portugal team who has not yet fallen out of the shadow of the World's Best Player, Cristiano Ronaldo. While they have talent the reliance and expectation of their superstar is there and as he suffers with injury the question will be will the team step up or will the US have a Portuguese scalp for the second time in a World Cup? I remember the victory in 2002, it was pretty special. One would argue that Portugal was a more polished product then with the likes of Deco and Rui Costa, but they often fail to show up in big games. The US took it to them and earned the victory that saw them through the next round, will this Sunday be a repeat.
Jermaine Jones said it best, the best TEAM will win. Using the Spurs winning the NBA championship over the Heat as his point of reference. One group of a collection of stars, the other a team, and it is team that win matches. Klinsmann will have these boy's ready and while the match against Ghana was costly from a injury standpoint the success of this team is not dependent on one but the whole. The loss of Altidore is a big one, his possession play is integral and Klinsmann can turn toward Chris Wondolowski who offers the same dynamic. Aron Johansson was the wrong choice as he struggled to understand the need and tempo. Losing Besler was a blessing as it brought on Brooks but the calm influence of the Sporting KC center back will be missed. I would expect Brooks earned a start alongside Cameron but the real question mark is who lines up alongside Ronaldo!? Fabian Jonhson has the skills and pace, but will need to be smart and hang back which may open the left flank for attacking runs, with that said Beasley was non existent and it will be up to Klinsmann to patch that hole.
In the midfield Bradley will need to be a bit more active going forward as he spent to much time running laterally to break up plays that were already past against Ghana. If the US can attack with width pace on the counter, taking a page out of Germany's playbook, this match is winnable. Who better to influence such tactics then the man that created them for Germany eight years ago! Dempsey will be crucial and he will know that and having Pepe out on suspension should open things up for the Texan. I would expect Portugal to find a way to close him, moving Carvalho back to CB and inputting Veloso or Meireles into the hole in front defense. This won't be what makes or breaks Portugal against the US; however, and will be more a function of well this team can come together and be successful.
From a US perspective, this is prime time! Sunday evening 6PM east coast time, I imagine an entire Nation will be watching. A talented opponent, a chance for a special result is the sort of story line you dream of every four years. Will the captive audience be rewarded or will the momentum of a win against Ghana be lost. Not sure about you, but this one is going to be excellent!