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U.S. blows one chance to advance at World Cup, but has another ahead

SoccerSportsPortugalClint DempseyGhanaFIFA World CupGermany
Bruce Arena: U.S. should play aggressively against Germany at World Cup

The United States' 2-2 draw with Portugal on Sunday was a disappointing result. In a game played under extreme heat and humidity, and a rough field, the U.S. did a remarkable job of fighting back and positioning itself for a victory and a place in the round of 16.

However, Portugal's goal in the 95th minute neutralized a very commendable second-half performance by the U.S.

U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann employed a conservative plan to start the game. Realizing that Portugal had to win, the U.S. flooded the midfield with five players, played low pressure and targeted Cristiano Ronaldo. Nani's goal in the fifth minute basically threw the game plan out the window and the U.S. struggled to find a rhythm. The game opened up at the 30-minute mark, and Portugal began to create a number of counter-attack opportunities. A second goal would have demoralized the U.S, and fortunately they were able to get in at halftime down only a goal, largely because of Tim Howard's 42nd- and 44th-minute saves on Nani and Eder.

The first half was not a good performance by the U.S., which struggled to create many goal-scoring opportunities and settled for several long shots. Portugal was suspect on defense because of the suspension of center-back Pepe and the injuries to left-back Fabio Coentrao and goalkeeper Rui Patricio. Also, Portugal's left side was vulnerable because Ronaldo floated into central positions and never tracked back on defense on that side of the field. At times, Fabian Johnson was able to exploit this weakness, but not much came of it. At the start of the second half, Portugal moved defensive midfielder Miguel Veloso to the left-back.

The U.S. started the second half slowly, but came alive at the 55th minute when Johnson got behind Veloso and created a great opportunity for Michael Bradley. Unfortunately, Portugal's center-back, Ricardo Costa, was able to clear Bradley's point-blank effort off the goal line. The U.S. began to take control and Portugal looked fatigued and disjointed. Jermaine Jones' 64th minute goal off a corner kick tied the score, 1-1, and put the U.S. in control.

Klinsmann made a great substitution in the 71st minute, which positioned the U.S. to win. DeAndre Yedlin entered the game at the right side of midfield for Alejandro Bedoya, and Klinsmann switched Graham Zusi to the left side. The substitution targeted Portugal's weak left side by utilizing the speed of Yedlin and Johnson, and it paid dividends in the 81st minute. Yedlin was able to get behind the Portuguese backline and deliver a ball that eventually fell to Zusi, who sent a cross to an open Clint Dempsey in front of goal. Dempsey's finish seemed to put the U.S. in position to win and advance in the tournament.

Unfortunately, Varela's header off a remarkable Ronaldo cross in the final seconds ended the game tied, 2-2, and nullified a tremendous second-half effort by the U.S.

As the U.S. heads for its third and final game of group play, against Germany on Thursday, it is likely that the U.S. will need a draw (worth a point) to advance into the round of 16. I believe Ghana will beat a depleted and demoralized Portugal and will be positioned to advance ahead of the U.S. in a tiebreaker scenario. Therefore, the U.S. needs at least a draw against an outstanding German team.

As I have mentioned, playing for a tie is extremely difficult. Additionally, the U.S. does not have the DNA to sit back, as witnessed in their games against Ghana and Portugal. The U.S. is an aggressive and competitive team, with a winning mentality. It likes to lay it on the line. At this stage, it has achieved more than most could have imagined.

Even though the U.S. is not as talented, lacks quality depth and has less recovery time than the Germans, my advice is to push the game against them from the start. The U.S. should bring in some fresh legs and make two to three changes to its lineup. If the teams can position themselves to be even going into the second half, they will be content to settle for a draw. This will secure for the U.S. advancement into the round of 16, which would be an incredible accomplishment.

Bruce Arena is general manager and coach of the Galaxy and was coach of the U.S. national team in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.

sports@latimes.com

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SoccerSportsPortugalClint DempseyGhanaFIFA World CupGermany
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