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June 20, 2014

Fightin' Words: How the US should approach Portugal

CHICKASHA —

Everything changes in the jungle.

It's uncharted territory, a place where man cannot predict, only react. It is the scenario facing the United States this Sunday, when they meet Portugal and the world's best player in the heart of the Amazon, Manaus.

And the territory is certainly uncharted. In the aftermath of the Americans' thrilling 2-1 win over Ghana -- a thumping header by young central defender John Brooks sending fans in Brazil and back home into a frenzy -- they come away battered and bruised. Most crucially, starting striker Jozy Altidore faces virtually the rest of the tournament out with a strained hamstring. 

In the speculation over what happens next for the U.S., some suggest a change of formation. They center around the fact that the Americans cannot afford to give Portugal as much possession as they gifted Ghana, especially with the explosive Cristiano Ronaldo ready to strike.

So, they suggest a simple answer: plug the midfield. By switching to five midfielders instead of four, the U.S. would better be able to hold onto the ball and, more importantly, keep Ronaldo off of it.

There's just one problem. This is a formation set up to play for the tie, a strategy that should never be adopted when faced with stronger attacking opposition. The law of averages say someone will score given enough chances.

And a 4-2-3-1 formation for the U.S. hardly gives them the chance to score. In this scenario, Texan and team captain Clint Dempsey would play the single striker position, the '1'. Experience tells us this is not a good idea. Dempsey does not like to play with his back to goal, shielding the ball from any of the four defenders. He prefers to get the ball in stride with room to run at the defense, where he has options to pass or shoot. 

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