The USMNT‘s win over Ghana to open up the 2014 World Cup may go down as one of the most monumental wins in U.S. Soccer history, but only if the Americans are able to advance out of the Group Stage; and in order for that to happen the U.S. must get a positive result in its second group match on Sunday against Portugal. Lost in all the excitement of the win over Ghana are the injuries suffered by several U.S. players, as well as the physical toll the game against Ghana took on all the players on the field. This is why the match against Portugal will test the depth of Jurgen Klinsmann‘s 23-man roster, as the Americans travel to the rainforest city of Manaus.
At the top of the injury list is Jozy Altidore, who was forced to leave the first half of the Ghana match with a hamstring injury. The sheer sight of Altidore’s injury makes it unlikely that he will play Sunday, if at all for the remainder of the tournament. This will force Klinsmann to insert either Aron Johannsson, who failed to make much of an impact after replacing Altidore against Ghana, or Chris Wondolowski into the starting lineup against Portugal. Neither player was expected to be anything more than a late-game substitute during the World Cup, but now the U.S. will have to rely on one of them to be in the starting lineup on Sunday and possibly for the remainder of the tournament.
Clint Dempsey may also be an injury concern after breaking his nose, or rather having his nose broken by a vicious knock to the face, during the Ghana match. Dempsey ended up playing all 90 minutes against Ghana, but if the injury affects his breathing, he may not be able to play 90 minutes in the hot and humid conditions in Manaus. That could force Klinsmann to use Johannsson and Wondolowski together or play the even younger and less experienced Julian Green at an attacking position.
Defensively, there are injury concerns as well after Matt Besler was forced to exit the Ghana match at halftime due to a slight injury. Obviously, everything worked out in the end, as his replacement John Brooks scored the goal that lifted the U.S. to victory, but Brooks is still a young player who may be asked to defend one of the top players in the world in Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo if Besler isn’t fully recovered and able to play. Starting Besler over Brooks is the right move if Besler is healthy, because while Brooks may have been the hero against Ghana, defending Ronaldo could become an issue for him.
The American midfield may not have any actual injuries, but there is no doubt that they are battered and bruised, as well as physically drained after the Ghana match. The use of Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones together in the midfield worked against Ghana, but after such an exhausting match, can they recover in time to do the same against a Portugal team that will be desperately searching for goals after an embarrassing 4-0 defeat against Germany?
Considering the injuries suffered, the exhaustion of the team and the weather conditions in Manaus that will suck the life out of a team long before 90 minutes is up, Klinsmann may have to make a number of changes to his starting lineup to help keep the team as fresh as possible. Klinsmann will also have to use his three substitutions against Portugal wisely, while hoping that the team doesn’t suffer through another plague of hamstring injuries during the first half. All hands will be on deck and all 23 players need to be ready, as the depth of the American team will be tested against a Portugal team desperate for a win as the U.S. hopes to take another big step towards advancing to the Knockout Stage of the 2014 World Cup.