TACTICAL: Is it youth or experience that replaces Altidore vs. Portugal?

After late drama in the first game, the U.S. head to the Amazon today to face Portugal knowing a win would book them a ticket in the second round with a game to spare.

Despite Portugal’s disastrous showing against Germany and mounting injuries/suspensions, this remains a very good team, especially knowing that another loss today would send the Selecção home.

Replacing Jozy Altidore in the lone striker role -- Youth or Experience?

When Jozy Altidore when down with a hamstring injury halfway through the first half against Ghana, Jurgen Klinsmann had a snap decision to make: bring in veteran MLS striker Chris Wondolowski, or go with the youthful Aron Jóhannsson. Klinsmann chose the latter, but Jóhannsson largely failed to impress, which may open up the door for Wondolowski.

In the match against Ghana, the U.S. did not get the ball to the target striker enough and oftentimes both Alitdore and Jóhannsson were left stranded up top. This was partially down to the fact that Ghana gave both Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, the two most creative Americans, no time on the ball.

Against Portugal, I expect Clint Dempsey to play a lot closer to the striker, be it Wondolowski or Jóhannsson. This puts less emphasis on the striker acting like a target striker and holding the ball up and waiting to bring other players into the play.

What Wondolowski lacks in pace he makes up for in his finishing ability. Wondolowski is the best pure finisher in the U.S. squad and though I expected him to play the role of the super sub, the injury to Altidore and Jóhannsson’s lackluster performance against Ghana has opened up the door for the San Jose Earthquakes player.

One thing’s for sure, if Wondo gets a chance in front of goal, he will certainly take it.

Being wary of the Portugal counter attack 

Real Madrid are the best counter-attacking team in world football because of one man – Cristiano Ronaldo. At times, Madrid are most dangerous when the opposing team has a corner kick and is forced to bring people up for it only to have Ronaldo lead a counter attack and score down the other end of the field.

With former Manchester United teammate Nani also in the starting eleven, Portugal possess two incredibly fast players that are capable of beating players in 1v1 situations. To combat this, the U.S. needs to be extremely aware of their shape on the field, and not get caught in a situation where too many players are up the field or out of position.

Jermaine Jones put in a man of the match performance on Monday against Ghana – often coming in with a last-ditch tackle or interception and he will be key for the US again tonight.

With Nani likely starting down the U.S. left, Jones needs to be aware of his positioning because Portugal will certainly be looking to get into 1v1 situations with DaMarcus Beasley.

If Jones strays too far into the middle and leaves Beasley exposed on the left, it could be very costly for the US. Due to the U.S. formation of clogging the middle of the field, Ghana focused their attacks down the wings. With Ronaldo on one side and Nani on the other, I expect Portugal to do the same.

If the U.S. plays a well-disciplined game and limit the amount of times Ronaldo can lead Portugal in the counter attack, it will greatly improve the American’s chances of picking up a positive result.

Continuing the strong start early – targeting the first 20 minutes

Just before Clint Dempsey picked the ball up, beat two defenders and buried the first goal for the U.S. just 30 seconds into the match, color commentator Taylor Twellman warned against another slow start for the U.S. in a World Cup match.

Too often it seems the Americans give up an early first goal in World Cup games and end up on the back foot from the off. Portugal on the other hand were down 3-0 at halftime vs. Germany plus picked up a red card and an injury to their starting striker all within 45 minutes.

The second half was a non-event, with Portugal unable to gather any momentum.

With these factors in mind, I expect Klinsmann to really have his team focused on a very positive first 20 minutes Sunday night. An early goal for the U.S. could mean Portuguese heads will drop but likewise an early goal for Portugal could galvanize Ronaldo and co.

Portugal will be making at least three changes to the team that started against Germany due to injuries and suspensions, with a least two of those to the four that started at the back.

What was also refreshing about the U.S. win on Monday was the fact that despite poor showings from Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, the U.S. still managed to pick up three points. I suspect they won’t be as fortunate this time and much improved performances especially from Bradley will be needed.

The body language and team’s reaction to the first goal will be very important. Many are touting this as the best possible time to play Portugal, but an early goal for the Europeans could turn all of that positive American momentum on its head.

Prediction – I went with a draw last time out and I’ll go with it again: 1-1 with goals from Eder and Michael Bradley.