Whenever you play Portugal, it’s very easy to get fixated on trying to somehow stop Cristiano Ronaldo, but you do also have to be aware of the other dangers that are lurking in the Portugal shadows. Joao Moutinho is one of those dangers and a player who, if given the time and space, can open up any defense he is faced with.
Moutinho is a technical player who likes to control the midfield with short, sharp passing, as well as having an eye for a defense-splitting pass around the 18-yard box. The AS Monaco midfielder doesn’t shy away from the defensive side of the game either, although it will be his work on the ball which the USMNT will need to concern themselves with.
When the U.S. played Ghana, they defended very deep and allowed Ghana time on the ball. Inevitably, Ghana do not have the guile or movement in the center of the field to open teams up, and their threat predominantly came from their wide players. The U.S. never had to deal with an intelligent midfield player in that game, finding the space in between the midfield and defensive lines, and that is what Moutinho will aim to do.
When he does, he needs to be closely guarded because if given time in those areas, he can slice through your defense without a second’s hesitation. Even without finding those pockets of space, though, Moutinho will sit deeper as well at times and pull the strings from there.
The U.S. cannot allow that to happen because Ronaldo will not always do his work on the ball, he will make runs off the ball too, safe in the knowledge that Moutinho is capable of finding him at the right time. He knows that Moutinho can be his supply line, when he needs him to be.
Ghana generally pass the ball left and right, to try and go down the sides of your defense, but Moutinho will move the ball forward to try and slice through the heart of it — and if he manages to do that, it may well be Ronaldo who’s bearing down on the U.S. goal.
USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann will likely field a narrow, hard-working midfield with multiple players in that area, and that would be a wise move because although Ronaldo will be a huge danger out wide, stopping that threat will be beyond difficult, and cutting off the supply line to him may be the best way forward.