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USMNT cautious of Ronaldo, but focus remains on full Portugal squad

Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal

Photo by Kieran McManus/


SAO PAULO — The Portuguese National Team has 23 players, 21 if you don’t count suspended defender Pepe and injured defender Fabio Coentrao, but there was only one player reporter after reporter wanted to ask U.S. national team players about on Thursday.

That player was Cristiano Ronaldo.

The U.S. will meet Portugal at Arena Amazonia in Manaus on Sunday, and plenty of the talk leading up to that important Group G match has been, and will continue to be, about the health of Ronaldo and how to defend him. That is natural given his superstar status and the fact that he is ailing from a left knee injury, but the Americans fully anticipate that he will play in the potential do-or-die match for Portugal.

They know stopping Ronaldo won’t be easy, and will require a collective effort from the full U.S. team, but American players stated repeatedly on Thursday morning at Sao Paulo FC’s Training Facility that there are more players to worry about than just the reigning Ballon d’Or winner.

“As a team, we have a lot of respect for Cristiano — he’s a great player — but I think you have to have respect for the whole Portugal team,” said midfielder Jermaine Jones. “They have a lot of good players. OK, he is the key player, but it depends. We have a lot of respect for everybody.

“First, we will try to make it our own game, look what we can do and not what can Portugal do or what can Cristiano do. It’s up to us for what we want. When we stick together as a team, like we did against Ghana, then I think we have a chance to win this game.”

Doing that could clinch a spot in the Round of 16 for the Americans that beat Ghana, 2-1, this past Monday while also possibly eliminating Portugal, who were on the losing end of a 4-0 result against Germany in their World Cup opener.

Ronaldo will be keen on trying to prevent that from happening, but Portugal also boasts a cast of technically-gifted players. Nani, Raul Meireles and Joao Moutinho are some of the other veterans capable of making a difference, and the U.S. knows it needs to be wary of all of them in order to pick up the three more points that will likely assure it a longer stay in Brazil.

“I always say that a team is important, not just in two or three players so if you stick together like a team, and fight like a team … you will win the game,” Jones said. “The NBA Finals showed how it works. The (San Antonio) Spurs were the better team and that is why they won the championship.”

All of that said, Ronaldo will still be a likely focal point of the U.S. game plan. The chiseled, 29-year-old veteran is strong, speedy, athletic, tremendously skilled and capable of punishing even the slightest of mistakes.

He also has a cannon of a shot that the U.S. will need to try and stymie by not allowing him too much space or time on the ball regardless of how far out he is. Then, there’s his ever-dangerous trademark free kicks.

“He kind of made a free kick kind of his own,” said midfielder Kyle Beckerman. “I think I read somewhere or saw something that was about he’s emulating a ping-pong shot. He just makes the ball go up and down really fast and the ball kind of does some crazy things.”

Ronaldo is capable of playing on either flank and at the tip of the attack, so it is not exactly clear who will be marking him on Sunday. Right back Fabian Johnson might be the player tasked with that responsibility or it could be left back DaMarcus Beasley or even centerbacks like Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler.

Johnson, however, seems the most likely since Ronaldo typically prefers to line up on the left flank. The fullback knows that he will have his hands full if that is the case, but he also plans on being undeterred in his ability to get forward and join the attack on occasion.

“I think I’m going to play my game as always,” said Johnson. “I don’t know where he’s going to play because sometimes it seems like he’s moving all around, so I don’t know if he’s going to play left winger or striker, right winger. I’m just trying to play my game.”

If the Americans can improve on their showing vs. Ghana and play a more possession-based game, that will go a big way in helping them limit Ronaldo. After all, there is only so much damage he can do without the ball.

“I think our best defense is offense and we have to be extremely clean with the ball,” Beckerman said. “We just have to do it. We just have to do it. We’re going to have to be clean with the ball, we’re going to have to finish our chances and I think if you can go a goal up on them, it helps a big, big part of that because I think they do like to counterattack.”


  1. Are we wearing the collared white kit on Sunday? Isn’t the red kit, Portugal’s home kit? So does that mean we are team Rocket Pop against Germany which usually wears white?

  2. The real culprit in the USA’s lack of possession vs Ghana was the combination of Ghana using 4 backs and 2 defensive mids to cover 2 US forwards who seemed unable to come back and show for any passes. The US mids were often caught looking forward only to find no one to pass to and then having to look sideways or back to make any connection. So Jones and Beckermann found Bradley who also had no forward to be seen, only defenders who were closing him down and taking away any time to find someone and all teammates who might be open were behind him. On the odd occassion FJ or Beasley got forward to be open, but you can’t really rely on wing-backs to provide a lot of possession in forward locations.

    Dempsey’s injury and Altidore’s exit from the game really hampered the US’s ability to play forward.

    • I can agree with everything you say about the tactics, even add that MB was still going strong physically at the end of the game when others were flagging, yet still observe that Bradley consistently underweighted his passes when he did have clear passing lanes. It does seem that he got rattled by the Ghana targeting and lack of options to forwards’ feet, and it affected him even when the pressure wasn’t there and he had other options. Very surprising for MB, and I don’t expect it to happen again.

      • It ain’t going down like that. All this criticism is just party fuel for Magic Mike. Unless we somehow end up in the final against Ghana, we aren’t going to be bullied in MF like that by any of the other teams… they were a unique proposition, even before they brought in that Cuban guy in the Boateng jersey

      • As I said, I don’t expect it to happen again. Bradley too good and too competitive, he will step up his game. I expect a monster performance vs Portugal.

  3. Bradleybneeds to play better against Portugal for us to have a chance. Normally, Bradlyis key distributor of the use game,especially when attacking his influence is immense when he is playing
    Well, as we have seen many times. At foward I think a good alternative may be Disrerud,because
    Of his on the ball
    Joe Santos sr

  4. Almeida will be out for Portugal per Portuguese sports pages. No lose there for Portugal, he stinks anyway. Has no ball skills. He is a mop up striker. Picks up loose balls maybe an occasional header. They will play Eder and or better yet Postiga who plays in the Spanish league for Valencia. The lost of the idiot, Pepe -defender, is not a big deal. USA has no offense especially without Jozy A. Who will be challenging up and down the wings? Watch out for Nani, Manchester United player, racing up the wings with crosses. Watch Mohawk Miereles and Monaco’s Joao Moutinho control the midfield.

    • We all know Portugal very well. Nani is dangerous, but 4 goals in two seasons isn’t impressive. Don’t act like he is a regular starter now. I’m more worried about Miereles and Moutinho. Truth is, Portugal hasn’t looked very impressive recently. Ronaldo and Coentrao were the best combo.

      Point is, we’ve heard it all before. Portugal is superior, blah blah blah. Including 2002. We know Portugal is a good team.

      • I didn’t really see Nani play this year or much of the Germany game, but I know he is great at driving at defenders, penetrating and making dangerous passes. His shot is still strong. I think you have to defend him as hard as Ronaldo.

  5. Maybe, but then Wondo or Johansson might be up top and might make it 2-0??? ANd then maybe we could be gifted a penalty.

    What would be amazing is if Wondo scored a bicycle kcik goal in the 90″ +5 minutes to win the game, or a “Andrea-Pirlo-style-freekick” from Braddy Davis’ sweet left foot”



  6. The USA has no offense at least that is what they showed against Ghana. They scored within 39 seconds and than parked the bus praying, hoping to hold on to a 1 to 0 lead while Ghana sent wave over wave of attacks and eventually scored. So what happens if Portugal goes up 1 to 0. Where does the USA’s wave of attack come from? Dempsey by himself.

      • Yes, Francis, I have watched the USA play the hard core teams in their qualifying games like Jamaica ,Canada or Costa Rica in snow storm game in Colorado. As B16 correctly stated, the US needs to maintain “possession”. Where was that possession capability as Ghana stole ball after ball while constantly attacking. The USA defense held for the most part. Credit and kudos to them. You need an offense to maintain possession. I just didn’t see it. Have you seen Portugal play?

      • POR? Last time I saw them, GER was curb stomped them and then kicking them in the nuts.

        BTW… you don’t need offense to maintain possession. Mexico did just fine maintaining possession against BRA without any offense at all.

    • “The USA has no offense”, yet we scored more than the other team, and exactly when we had to. god we suck, i hope that doesn’t happen against portugal.

  7. If, big if, the US could maintain some sort of possession, it would certainly limit Ronaldo’s effectiveness. If they “possess” like they did against Ghana (2-3 passes in a row, Bradley kicks ball away from teammates) it could be a very long afternoon.

    • This is the big thing. We (the U.S.) have to have better possession than we did against Ghana. If not, we may get blown off the field by Portugal and the Germans.

  8. Almeida is out too…worth mentioning.

    sounds like the team is looking at how to approach the game in the right way. can’t wait for the game. i think we will be much better with possession and hopefully Bradley will have a monster game.

    also, Kaka signed with Orlando! loaned out to Sao Paulo until January.

  9. So is it a foregone conclusion that Beasley will start the Porgual game?

    Am I taking crazy pills or was he absolutely awful in the Ghana game? On a team that collectively played worse than I’ve seen them play in a long time, he stood out as a shining example of failure as he repeatedly (1) got turned inside out, (2) got caught out of position, (3) fell down(!!), (4) missed tackles, (5) gave the ball away, and (5) let cross after cross come in uncontested.

    Someone has to have been watching the same game I was. After that performance, I don’t know how you start him against a team with even better wing players! The only way that would be the best course of action would be if there was no alternative configuration of the back line. However, I don’t think that’s the case. We’ve seen Johnson play on the left, and we have right back options to replace him. Alternatively, a straight-up swap at left back for a right back playing out of position would be hard pressed to do worse than Beasley did in the Ghana game.

    I know, “don’t judge a player based on 1 game” – well the World Cup doesn’t last any longer than three games if you play defense like that. I would not risk a repeat performance.

    • Colin: dozens of others have commented on this site alone to explain how Beasley’s performance was stellar against Ghana. I suggest you look for those commentaries.

      The bottom line: using your same measures of analysis, one would conclude that Ali was a failure in Zaire in 1974.

    • Colin, I totally agree. People here have basically praised Beasley saying, “he did a good job of allowing Ghana to only cross from marginally dangerous positions, as opposed to really dangerous ones.” What they fail to realize is that Ghana put lefties on the right wing. Beasley didnt get beat down the line because Ghana’s attackers wanted to go middle. At one point he actually gave the middle away, blocking off the sideline!

      Beasley may not have made, but that does not mean he was good because honestly he is not so talented a defender. Is it crazy to think that our outside back should be able to stop most crosses in general, rather than allow them from somewhat harmless positions time after time? My guess is Portugal will have Ronaldo going straight at Beasley because he was our weakest link in the back line. Or we could put Chandler there because he is much more physically equipped to handle Ronaldo + aerial threats. Were it not for one mistake in the Turkey game (can’t we forgive?) I think a lot of people would be calling for the same move.

      • the argument I made was that Beasley did what he was supposed to, which was force crosses. what i ALSO said was that Beasley let in too MANY crosses. it was clear 2v1s on his side all night and our strategy seemed to be having Beasley keep them wide. problem was, he didn’t do enough to STOP the cross. but he did do a pretty good job preventing them from cutting in repeatedly.

        please be clear on that distinction and why it’s important. there are people, like Lalas, who think Beasley was “outstanding,” but he wasn’t. but there are also people who think the fact that we let them get crosses in was Beasley’s fault…it wasn’t completely. Beasley was at fault for allowing 38 of them instead of a manageable amount.

        also, when we relinquish possession over and over and over, they got that many more chances to go at Beasley.

      • bryan: I think two statements add up to praise for DMB:

        “Beasley was at fault for allowing 38 of them instead of a manageable amount.”


        “also, when we relinquish possession over and over and over, they got that many more chances to go at Beasley.”

        In other words, the one thing we can fault Beas for wasn’t exactly his fault. He took the brunt of Ghana’s attack all freaking night and, while Atsu and Opare could take turns running at him, he had to run with them every time.

      • wait, so you think it’s okay to allow that many crosses? not sure what you’re trying to say.

        ‘he took the brunt of ghana’s attack’ because he was easily the weakest link. no, you can’t exactly blame beasley for that–he’s doing his best, he’s just not a good defender–but you don’t just dismiss it either. he played poorly, against the weakest wingers in our group (except ours). we need a better defender back there.

      • What we’re saying is that allowing those types of crosses appeared to be a tactical decision. Not once did an early cross actually force Howard into a save. Most went behind for a GK, which is a loss of possession. As Napoleon supposedly said: “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.”

      • i agree that it worked well: ghana is apparently horrible at crossing.

        however, portugal and germany are not. wonder if this means beasley still plays against them.

      • Nate Dollars: that’s a fair question. I’m not blindly supporting DMB.

        Could be that he sits, or could be that they change overall strategy so he still plays.

        Who does Portugal or Germany have who is as fast as Atsu or Opare?

      • Oh, and I think Mason did a good job explaining what I was saying about Beas taking the brunt of Ghana’s attack: he took it and made it fizzle.

      • Is it crazy to think that our outside back should be able to stop most crosses in general, rather than allow them from somewhat harmless positions time after time?

        If that’s what the coach wants, then yes, it is. It is neither DMB nor JK’s fault that GHA never adjusted and kept whipping in pointless crosses.

      • This. Too often, soccer fans (and players) think that the only measure of success for a defender is to steal the ball, allow no passes, and no shots on goal; i.e., “shut down” the offense.

        In reality, the job of a defender is to impede the offense, force hasty passes, and obstruct shots on goal.

      • It truly astounds me that some can’t even consider the possibility that DMB was told, “Do not – under any circumstances – get into a race down the touchline. Shade outside and wait for help from the inside.”

        Even GHA’s coach was able to see this. He yanked Atsu because the winger kept cutting into Jones/Beckerman or wasting possession on crosses into B-B/C*. Against tall athletic CBs, that type of attack is as wasteful as Bradley kicking the ball away in midfield. So are long shots that fly yards wide.

        *Who did an excellent job staying with their marks in the penalty area.

      • So you rather have a worse 1v1 defender defend Ronaldo who doesn’t cross but will break Beasley s ankles as we saw happen in Ghana game. Or Chandler who is better 1v1 defender.

      • haha, didn’t finish typing.

        meant to say: yes. chandler provides better defending, just no attacking from the left. but it doesn’t seem that beasley will be able to attack against these teams anyway, so i’d rather have the better defender in there.

        or you know, use fabian on the left and chandler on the right, where both feel comfortable.

      • I suppose it comes down to, “How much attacking potential do you want out of the non-FJ FB?”

        If you want little to none, go with Chandler. If you want more, go with DMB.

      • ‘attacking potential’ is a smart way to say it, because that’s all you had from beasley the last game (or against any decent team, in my opinion), is ‘potential’.

        my point was that if you’re going to instruct your fullback to stay home, you might as well pick the better defender.

      • and, as i said in another comment, you actually have a ton of attacking potential in chandler if you play him in his natural position.

      • Nate Dollars:

        So I re-watched the match yesterday. It confirmed some observations in my mind but also changed others. It was quite different to watch it without an ache in my gut and fingers white-knuckled on the desk. Knowing we would win let me look for other things.

        First, we weren’t nearly as bad as I remembered. When I first watched, it seemed like we had about 5% possession from minute 10 through 95. In reality, we did fine until Boateng came in. Even then, it wasn’t all just booting it upfield or MB giving it away.

        Anyway, that’s off-topic. I wanted to say something about Beasley. Re-watching confirmed to me that he played very well defensively. He got beat about 3 times—I’m talking about dangerous times, not all the times he “got beat” by letting a horrible cross go nowhere. There is not a defender on earth who can prevent every terrible pass. So I’m standing by my statement that DMB played very well defensively.

        Where he was actually quite bad was offensively. I hadn’t noticed this before. He made few runs upfield and when he did he gave it away—bad pass, dribbled into defenders, passed out of bounds, etc. Even when he was just trying to pass out of the back he was bad—long or short passes.

        Player grade for DMB:
        Defensively: 8
        Offensively: 2
        Overall: 6 (weighted toward defense because that’s what we did most of)

      • King you fail to realize that Ronaldo won’t cross but will best Beasley easily off the dribble cut inside and score

      • Shawn, you fail to realize that throughout this entire thread, I have been commenting on Beasley’s game against Ghana and have said nothing about Ronaldo.

    • Go to the tape – actual tape – and watch USA vs COL from 1994 to see how you deal with skilled, stubborn, diminutive teams.

      • That was from Steve Samson’s scouting. He noticed Colombia almost never attacked from the wings, but rather straight down the middle. The US was able to clog up the middle and force Colombia out of their game. To an extent, that is what we did against Ghana. While they are very talented, they could not breech the US defense until they were gassed in the 82nd minute. And it was a beautiful combo play with a backheel that released A. Ayew for the goal. Ghana might have been able to use those tactics against African sides but you have to give JK and his staff credit for the game plan. Had Jozy not gotten injured, I think it was going to be 2-0 or 3-1. He beat Boye to the ball on the play he injured his hamstring. Dempsey had already torched Boye by cutting inside. Jozy scored against Nigeria w/ a lovely inside move. I think we were looking at a genuine goalscoring opportunity BUT FOR the hamstring pull. It completely changed the game.

    • According to the post game interviews, the plan was to let Ghana throw as many crosses as they wanted to in from the wings but not to let them get around the wings and cut inside, and for the most part it worked well, with the only goal being from cutting inside and was not on Beasley’s side either.

  10. Two questions:

    1. is tying his shoelaces together an option?
    2. Doesn’t all that hair produce sting his eyes once it starts to sweat down his face?

  11. “He kind of made a free kick kind of his own,” said midfielder Kyle Beckerman. “I think I read somewhere or saw something that was about he’s emulating a ping-pong shot. He just makes the ball go up and down really fast and the ball kind of does some crazy things.”

    Kyle Beckerman, obviously interviewed while completely stoned.

  12. Can almost promise you he’ll play in the hole, under Eder.

    Ronaldo is not “100% fit”, regardless of what anyone says. They’ll play him underneath in the withdrawn forward spot where he has no defensive responsibilities – not that he ever attends to those anyway – and where he doesn’t have to run around as much.

    It pinches him, some, to play there, but at the end of the day you still have to worry about that cannon of his, and they’ll play to it, and one thing that has been obvious watching him is his usual pace and explosiveness is not there, but he still strikes the ball well.

    • I’m not disagreeing with you, but just a few thoughts:

      First, re the defensive duties that Ronaldo never attends to. Having him defend at all would be a huge waste of talent, imo. It takes a ton of energy to sprint at his pace and a long time to recover between sprints. I’d hate to put him on defense and miss out on an opportunity for him to sprint to goal.

      Second, if he plays down the middle then he will get smashed and battered—not that his body can’t handle it, but that knee…. Jones and Beckerman can time their tackles well enough to wear him out without drawing cards.

      The key will be if Ronaldo starts looking for assists instead of only goals. If that ever happens, then running him down the middle would cause USA a lot of problems.

  13. If I’m Portugal, I have Ronaldo come down the middle a couple of times and either 1) blow by US CBs by running straight as Besler/Cameron or 2) draw fouls in dangerous spots from Beckerman, JJ

    it would (very marginally) easier to use the sideline as an extra defender versu an open field

    • And if I’m the U.S. I make sure that when our guys foul him, Ronaldo’s knee gets hit everytime. And I trust JJ and Beckerman to be smart about this.

      • I don’t ever support intentionally injuring a player. But I do support targeting a player for repeated hard tackles that leave him exhausted, frustrated, and afraid. The fact that Ronaldo’s knee is bugging him makes him a perfect target for such treatment.

      • You are saying what many don’t have the guts to admit..huh..
        -How many times have you heard football players say they will hit someone leaglly if they know they’re injured
        -If a baseball pitcher is gimpy, it’s common to lay down a bunt to force him to move off the mound
        -If a basketball player is slowed by injury, it’s common to isolate him on defense & force him to defend 1on1

        As long as there’s no intent to injure, anything they can do to frustrate and take him out of his game is fair nuff

      • Being physical and not letting him breeze through the game and play how he wants, sure. Targeting his knee I believe is disgusting. We can pretend there is a “smart” and “careful” way of doing this, but that is ridiculous, you can’t be 100% precise in the way you tackle someone when you are going at full speed and you have no idea what they are thinking and if they are about to go this way or that. Crazy injuries happen accidentally, let along when you are target a part of a players body that is already not 100%

        Physically matching Ronaldo: Yes. Targeting his knee: No.

      • Agreed. I never said to target Ronaldo’s knee. Only to target him because of his knee, especially if he moves inside because of his knee. He can’t be comfortable on the wing because there’s too much running, but he can’t be comfortable inside because there’s too much tackling.

        His injury isn’t fragility like he’s recovering from an ACL surgery or something like that. He has tendinitis, which is just a problem of overuse. So force him to overuse it.

        No, there is no safe way to target someone’s knee. But there is a safe way to tackle someone, even tackle them hard.

      • Since the knee is an integral part of just about every move a guy like Cristiano would do I don’t see how you can tackle him hard and not potentially affect his knees.

      • True, but:

        1) That is true of every soccer player; i.e., knees are essential

        2) There is a way to tackle that intentionally targets knees. It usually results in a card too. Some commenters here have actually suggested that we purposefully perform those kinds of tackles; i.e., instruct Jones to “sweep the leg”; he gets a red but Ronaldo gets a stretcher. That’s a horrible plan (for multiple reasons).

      • the “being smart about this” means not doing anything that would result in a red card, or not even getting a card. Doing a sweeping slide tackle that is going for the ball (or appears to) into Ronaldo’s side with bad knee is what I’m talking about. Many times in tourney- that’s not even a foul, but first body contact is usally into the player’s planted leg in his calve area which would put a lot of strain on that knee.

        The the main goal is really to get inside Ronaldo’s head so that he doesn’t want to do those galloping runs around our player’s through the heart of our defense. If he has to leave the field due to these hard but reasonable tackles/fouls, then that’s an extra bonus.

      • First 100% sensible comment I’ve ever read here. It’s not about injuring him further, it’s about making him think about it before he dances through our midfield. That’s why this team always needed players like Jones, who are not afraid to do that. We’ve never had that attitude before. You may not like the way he passes, you may think he’s reckless, but he’s the first US player I can remember, at least, who has the mindset to throw in hard challenges that make the opponent a little less brave the next time he is in that position. Hopefully you can defend free kicks, is all.

      • Early on Mikey was reckless in his tackles and went to ground far too easily. He got over that. And Mikey has never been the kind of “enforcer” threat that JJ was and is. He’s not that kind of tough guy.

        Mikey came across like he was in a bad mood or grumpy never calculatedly psychotic like Jermaine. It’s the oldest cliché in sport but Jones is a real tough guy who grew up in a tough neighborhood and came from the “streets” while Mikey grew up in Princeton , NJ.

        It’s New Jersey so I’m sure there are tough sections in Princeton but I doubt Mikey grew up there.

      • “Mikey came across like he was in a bad mood or grumpy never calculatedly psychotic like Jermaine.”

        good point.

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