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The United States took a huge step towards qualifying for the knockout stages with a draw against Portugal. Portugal failed to make the most of their resources, while the US were more adapt at carrying out their gameplan. The injury of Coentrao combined with the suspension of Pepe forced Paulo Bento to change his starting line-up, but the key players like Ronaldo, Nani and Moutinho failed to fulfill their roles to the maximum, which could have easily condemned Portugal to a defeat and crashing out, had the US not shot themselves in the foot with two defensive mistakes.

The formations

The United States started in a 4-3-3 formation. Beckerman played as a deep playmaker, with Jones and Bradley in front of him. Jones had an important role as a balance player, while Bradley started attacks, and arrived in the box to finish them off, playing in a more attacking role. The only change compared to the first match was the inclusion of Graham Zusi in place of the injured Jozy Altidore.

Portugal started in their usual 4-3-3 formation, with Ricardo Costa taking Pepe's place, and André Almeida playing in place of Coentrao. Hélder Postiga started up front, but had to be substituted for Éder after 16 minutes due to an injury. Beto replaced Rui Patricio in goal.

The formations for the clash between USA and Portugal.

Portugal take the early lead

 Nani gave Portugal an early lead after only five minutes. It was an avoidable goal; Geoff Cameron failed to clear Miguel Veloso's cross, which fell to Nani, who scored from close range. This goal was not a product of any tactical consideration, but bad marking and an unfortunate touch. 

Bedoya closed down André Almeida, but Johnson decided to neither help him, nor pick up Veloso, choosing to cover the space behind Johnson instead. This was neither good or bad, but in this case, someone else has to pick up the midfielder - crosses shouldn't fly into the box unopposed. Dempsey just let Veloso go a few seconds earlier, which left him free.

Portugal dominate in the early stages, and a change in attack

Portugal looked a lot better in attack in the first 15 minutes than they did any time after, and this was down to the work rate of Helder Postiga. He dropped deep, either pulling a defender out of position, or occupying Beckerman, who normally would have been able to pick up Ronaldo or Nani, who both drifted inwards from the wings. The movement between the lines of the US left Meireles and Moutinho to play a bit deeper, thus outnumbering the pair of Jones and Bradley with the aid of Veloso. 

Portugal dominated the central areas, and most likely would have gone on to create meaningful chances had Hélder Postiga not gotten injured. His value to the team became evident when Éder got on the pitch, and failed to create the space needed for his team-mates; he rarely stepped away from his defenders, and was outmuscled by Jerome in most cases. 

USA attack on the right

The United States targeted the left wing of Portugal. Bedoya moved inwards, while Johnson pushed high, making runs into the space behind the defence. André Almeida had a torrid time, his positioning was not the best; he played very far away from Johnson, letting him receive the ball. To be fair, Almeida received little cover; Ronaldo made poor decisions when he closed back to defend, often pressing the wrong player, which created ripple effects. Moutinho or Meireles were either outnumbered, or badly positioned as a result of Ronaldo leaving his position in the defensive shape. 

Moutinho had a poor game overall, making mistakes in his positioning. Paulo Bento took off André Almeida at half-time, and put Miguel Veloso in his position, while William Carvalho entered the game. Carvalho played as a deep midfielder, while Veloso moved to left-back.  

The change did not improve matters; Johnson was able to beat Veloso with his pace, and collect balls played behind him. This last fact was the most worrying, as the lack of pace at left-back could have been countered with better planning from the Portuguese point of view. I don't think that pace is the most important skill a footballer can have. It is very nice, makes life easier in most cases, but you can alter your positioning on the pitch in such a away that a lack of pace does not hinder you. Veloso's positioning was poor time and again, for example in the situation that led to the corner from which the US equalized. Veloso made no attempt to close down Johnson on the ball, but stood yards away from him. The second US goal came after a break down the right at which Veloso's defending was very poor once again - he was caught watching the ball, neither following the run of Johnson, nor intercepting the pass to his opponent.

We have seen another deep playmaker play on the left side of defence in this World Cup, Daley Blind for the Netherlands, who plays as a deep-lying playmaker for Ajax (in most games). He also struggles with pace, but he gets close to his opponent, and fouls him if he was to be beaten, and his team-mates close the space behind him to provide an additional line in case Blind loses the one-on-one. We have seen both Martins Indi and Kuyt cover for Blind in such situations. Such covering would have helped the defensive stage of the Portuguese game, but Bruno Alves rarely left his central position.

Bedoya gets the ball off Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo.

The second United States goal highlighted other mistakes in the Portuguese play. Ronaldo and Eder both stayed upfield, thus exposing the midfield duo of Carvalho and Moutinho. They were outnumbered three against two by Beckerman, Bradley and Jones. It is deadly to give so much space in midfield when you have a clear disadvantage on one side, and Johnson can break so easily behind the defense. This was exactly what happened, the ball got played in behind, and the US scored their second goal.

Portugal counters

Portugal struggled to create chances from positional play, and their chances came from winning the ball and breaking on the USA. This would have been a very good strategy, but the defense of the team was not solid enough to rely on, plus Nani had a poor game, and often lost the ball with sloppy touches, or bad passes out of the defence.  

Portugal equalizer 

Silvestre Varela came on for Raul Meireles in the 69th minute. He played on the left side of midfield, and kept width, rarely coming towards the middle. He made a run behind Johnson, and finished off Ronaldo's cross with a powerful header. This was another goal that had little to do with any tactical considerations, but was an effect of Bradley loosing the ball in midfield in the dying seconds, and Johnson losing track of Varela, and not telling Jerome to pick him up when the winger arrived in the box.

Silvestre Varela nods in a dramatic equalizer.


The United States dominated the game thanks to the defensive mistakes made by Portugal, such as bad positioning of their left-backs, Ronaldo's inability to remain disciplined without the ball, the lack of sharpness when it came to marking in midfield, and poor decision making and unforced errors from Nani. Even if Portugal make it to the next round, I doubt that the core of the team will be similar at the 2016 European Championships.

The United States were very good in carrying out their gameplan, and could have won easily with a better performance in two crucial situations. The draw sets them up perfectly to go through if they don't lose against Germany. 

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