SAO PAULO — Just after he was cut from the U.S. roster last month, right back Brad Evans posted this snarky tweet: “You got off easy this time (at)Cristiano.”
The Americans are confident their defensive depth can stop the two-time world player of the year when they play Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal in a World Cup match Sunday night in the Amazon rain forest capital of Manaus.
“He’s a complete player,” midfielder Michael Bradley said Friday. “When you look at the game today, there’s such a premium on the physical aspect of the game – speed, strength, endurance – and he is a guy who checks all those boxes. And then when you talk about his technical ability – the way he shoots with his right foot, his left foot, how good in the air he is – he’s somebody who can make the difference at any moment.”
Coming off a 2-1 opening win over Ghana, the U.S. could clinch advancement with a win and would put itself in excellent position with a tie.
Right back Fabian Johnson, left back DaMarcus Beasley, and central defenders Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler figure to fixate on Ronaldo. Bradley, Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones will assist in marking him from the midfield.
Ronaldo, a 29-year-old forward with the perpetually gelled hair, has topped 50 goals in four straight seasons with Real Madrid. He was voted FIFA player of the year in 2008, then in January ended Lionel Messi’s streak of four consecutive awards.
For six months, U.S. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has been talking about how his first priority was the U.S. opener against Ghana and his second was to “go to beautiful Manaus and expect Mr. Ronaldo.” Klinsmann, by the way, didn’t even have Ronaldo on his player of the year ballot; he voted Franck Ribery first, followed by Gareth Bale and Radamel Falcao.
Ronaldo has been bothered by tendinitis in his left knee for more than two months and wore a brace Friday during Portugal’s training session in Campinas.
“At the moment we certainly expect he’s going to play,” Bradley said. “A game of this magnitude, of this importance for both teams, you’d always expect the best players are going to find any way to be on the field.”
The U.S. has experience against top players, keeping Argentina’s Messi scoreless at the 2007 Copa America, and during exhibitions in 2008 and 2011. England’s Wayne Rooney was held without a goal in the Americans’ 2010 World Cup opener.
“We have a lot of respect for Cristiano. He’s a great player. But I think you have to respect the whole team of Portugal,” Jones said. “When we stick together like a team and fight like we did it against Ghana, then I think we have chances to win this game.”
Goalkeeper Tim Howard said it has to be a group effort.
“Body language. Communication,” he said, “and just being able to be in the right spots.”
The U.S. said Besler’s sore right hamstring, which forced him from the opener at halftime, is fine and he’ll be able to play Sunday. He did early work on the field Friday before the others.