The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Sports

June 17, 2014

U.S. focused on Portugal

SAO PAULO, Brazil — After arriving back at their rooms at 4:45 a.m., victorious American players skipped breakfast Tuesday, slept late, went for medical tests and turned their attention to Portugal.

The U.S. opened the World Cup with a thrilling 2-1 win over nemesis Ghana on John Brooks’ 86th-minute goal. But Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Matt Besler and Alejandro Bedoya all got hurt to various degrees. Altidore, taken off on a stretcher after straining his left hamstring, appears unlikely to play against the Portuguese this weekend.

“We’ve got to see how he now reacts the next couple days,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “We’re full of hope that he comes back still in this tournament.”

Players hope to become the first American team to win consecutive World Cup games since a 2-0 start at the very first tournament in 1930.

“Woke up today, this morning, and you look at your Instagram and Twitter and you see the videos that people posted,” Bedoya said of fans back home celebrating Brooks’ goal. “It’s really cool, and I’m sure everybody feeds off this energy.”

The match drew 11.09 million viewers on ESPN, a record for men’s soccer on the network. And after decades when U.S. soccer fans felt outnumbered — even at home games — players took notice of the raucous red, white and blue-clad crowd at Arena das Dunas in Natal.

“It was an incredible feeling, the support we had from the fans in the stadium along with the fans in every part of the country. We felt that,” said midfielder Graham Zusi, whose corner kick was headed in by Brooks. “It just makes me want more of it.”

But before the next game, the U.S. needs to heal a little.

Dempsey, who set the tone when he scored 30 seconds in, had his nose broken by a shin to the face from defender John Boye when they battled for a header. Klinsmann expects him to play Sunday in the Amazon rain forest capital of Manaus.

“I don’t know how much a mask can protect him,” Klinsmann said. “It was tricky during the game. He barely could breathe. He struggled with that. But once it’s broken, it’s broken. It will take time to heal completely.”

Dempsey will be paired up front either with Aron Johannsson, who was ineffective as Altidore’s replacement, or Chris Wondolowski.

Midfielder Michael Bradley also had a quiet game. Klinsmann said, “I know that Michael can step it up again.”

Besler, like Altidore, went for an MRI. The defender felt soreness in his right leg late in the first half and was replaced by Brooks for the start of the second.

“Matt is no problem. All fine for the next game,” Klinsmann said.

Bedoya was hobbling before Zusi replaced him in the 77th minute. He said he had a hip pointer, the reoccurrence of an old injury, then also cramped up in his hamstring.

Portugal also has issues and will have to change the right side of its defense. Pepe was ejected in Monday’s 4-0 loss to Germany after he appeared to head butt Thomas Mueller. Right back Fabio Coentrao was taken off on a stretcher and forward Hugo Almeida limped off. Coentrao is out for the tournament.

The U.S won its World Cup opener for only the third time in 10 tries, following a 3-0 victory over Belgium in 1930 and a 3-2 win against Portugal in 2002. The Americans advanced to the semifinals in 1930 and the quarterfinals in 2002.

If the U.S. gets at least a tie against fourth-ranked Portugal and No. 2 Germany defeats Ghana, the Americans would head to their third match in prime position to advance.

After delaying training by 45 minutes to wait out a huge traffic jam caused by Brazilians rushing home to watch the Selecao play Mexico, American subs practiced at Sao Paulo Futebol Clube’s Barra Funda complex Tuesday. Those who saw significant time Monday worked in the weight room and swimming pool. Klinsmann was thinking of giving players a day off today.

“Our bodies are banged up a bit,” Bedoya said.

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