Jurgen Klinsmann decided to start Clint Dempsey alone up front and it paid off when the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) played Portugal in the FIFA World Cup yesterday. The United States earned a point in the 2-2 draw, which puts then in second place in the group with a 76 percent chance to advance into the knockout stages of the tournament according to ESPN’s Soccer Power Index (SPI). Dempsey being chosen to play up front by himself was a risky move, but he played outstanding in the game. He linked up with the five midfielders well, won the ball when tracking back to midfield on multiple occasions and had some pretty decent hold up play throughout the game.
The captain of the USMNT, Clint Dempsey, also had the go ahead goal in the 81st minute. It was not the most beautiful goal, but it was a goal typical of the desire and drive that Dempsey shows game in and game out. It was what many would call an American goal in its tenacity and belief, but the USMNT did not play typically America soccer against Portugal. The team played better. They played like a top team, with class and technical ability. There were close passes, speed and verve in the build up of attack.
The decision to start Clint Dempsey alone up front for the USMNT in the FIFA World Cup not only paid off because of Dempsey’s individual talent, but also because it gave the United States more width and numbers in the midfield. Kyle Beckerman who has played outstanding in both games was able to sit in front of the back four, while Bradley and Jones were given license to move further forward and disrupt Portugal’s central midfielders. That left both Zusi and Bedoya to occupy the wings and give added depth to the attack, but more importantly to help defensively when Portugal countered. That was something that was done very well up until the last moments of the game.
The score line was 2-1 in favor of America after the Dempsey goal. It felt like a game winner, but it was not. The USMNT had fought back the whole game after going down 1-0 early in the game. It was almost a complete reverse of the Ghana game when America went up early and defended almost the entire game, only seeing around 33 percent possession for the match. Cristiano Ronaldo, the star player for Portugal, was absent for the entire game up until the last minute. Give a player of that quality and class a bit of room, and he can deliver a sublime whipped cross curving away from the keeper that goes straight into a crashing runner’s head for a game tying equalizer. It was the latest goal ever given up in a 90-minute game in the history of the FIFA World Cup.
The SPI gives Germany a 99.7 percent chance to advance out of Group G because of their plus four goal differential in their first two games. The USMNT has a plus one goal differential and will play Germany at noon Eastern Standard Time on Thursday June 26. In contrast Ghana has a 19 percent chance to advance and Portugal just a 5 percent chance to make it to the knockout stages of the FIFA World Cup. The USMNT only have a 14 percent to win the group though, where the Germans have an 86 percent chance to win the group and play the second placed team coming out of Group H. The Group H winner is looking like it is going to be Belgium with Algeria coming in second, but Russia still has a slim chance to advance out of their group.
Jurgen Klinsmann has more lineup decisions ahead of Thursday’s match with Germany. The Germans have started both of their games with six midfielders and if the USMNT do the same, counting Dempsey, then their will be a struggle in the middle of the pitch to retain possession for both teams. No matter what Klinsmann decides to do with Dempsey in the final Group G game of the FIFA World Cup, the captain of the USMNT will excel, because he appreciates a challenge and will carry America into the Knockout stages of the tournament.
Commentary by B. Taylor Rash