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Jun 18, 2014

USA's Jurgen Klinsmann keeping Portugal plans private

Check out how the World Cup is sweeping the nation.

SAO PAULO -- With Monday's 2-1 win over Ghana now firmly in the rearview mirror, the United States turns its attention to Sunday's meeting with Portugal in the Amazonian city of Manaus.

A win there would secure passage into the knockout stage of the World Cup for the second consecutive tournament, which would be a first for the U.S.

Even a tie might be enough.

But with Group G favorite Germany looming on June 26, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann wants to leave nothing to chance. So just as he did before the all-important opener, he's taking the tack that only all three points against Portugal will do.

"Our approach is not to go to Manaus and defend a 1-1 or a nil-nil or whatever it is," Klinsmann said at a news conference here Tuesday after the U.S. team took a charter flight overnight from Natal, site of the stirring late victory against the Black Stars. "We want to win this game."

It won't be easy. While Portugal was humiliated by the Germans in their first match and will be without Real Madrid defenders Pepe (suspension) and Fabio Coentrao (groin) against the U.S., they'll be desperate for a win themselves. A loss would eliminate them from second-round contention with one group stage game to spare.

And short-handed, they still have more than enough talent -- even with reigning Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo slowed by a sore knee -- to punish the Americans in ways Ghana could not.

"Portugal is definitely a different caliber than Ghana," Klinsmann said. "It's a difficult situation for them now after that 4-0 defeat. They are with their backs against the wall. So that makes it even more difficult to get a result."

To earn even a point, the U.S. will have to be sharper.

The Americans were badly out-possessed in the opener. Protecting the lead they took on Clint Dempsey's goal 30 seconds into the match might partially explain why they spent much of the game on their heels, but the U.S. also made too many unforced errors and surrendered too much of its own territory. Against Portugal, they will have to find a way to play higher up the field.

"I think at times we can put the ball in their end and go up and pressure them," said midfielder Graham Zusi, who delivered the game-winning assist on John Brooks' goal against Ghana and who could start in place of the banged-up Alejandro Bedoya on Sunday. "Also, just protecting the ball more. I think we give it away a bit too easily."

Losing target striker Jozy Altidore -- a passing outlet who helps relieve pressure by holding off defenders until his teammates can move their lines up and join the play -- in the first half of the Ghana match certainly had something to do with that. And with Altidore expected to miss the rumble in the jungle, the U.S. will have to adjust its tactics -- not that Klinsmann was about to talk specifics.

"I don't want to go too deep into details," he said. "Obviously we want Portugal to guess a little bit as well. But when one of your key players is not available, does it change certain things? Absolutely it does. Jozy is a very strong, key player in our group. So we'll think about the right way to handle that situation."

It could be with a change in formation or personnel, or both. Still, whatever tweaks the coach makes, his team's overall performance must pick up significantly if it is to get the victory it has set its sights on.

"We have a lot of things to work on," Bedoya said. "We're going to go back and study the video and work on things we need to improve on. There are certainly things we can do a lot better."

NOTES:

-- Wednesday was an off day for the U.S. team. On Tuesday, the players who didn't feature against Ghana were put through their paces at Sao Paulo FC's training facility, the squad's home base during the tournament, while those who played on Monday went through a regeneration session in the weight room and in the pool.

-- Whether they knew they dodged a bullet or were exhausted by the physical game, the U.S. didn't spend the flight back to Sao Paulo early Tuesday morning celebrating, according to Klinsmann. "On the plane it was very quiet," he said. Most of the players were sleeping, he said, but perhaps they were also heeding the staff's advice. "We're always telling the players to stay on the ground, stay focused, the next game is even more difficult than the one we just played," he said. "We [made] it clear that from now on, the only thing we talk about is Portugal."

-- Klinsmann insisted that he won't swap notes with German manager Joachim Loew, his former assistant with Die Mannschaft. "I don't think I will touch base with Jogi about Portugal now, even if I know he would tell me whatever he thinks about them," he said. "We've done already our homework. We're well-prepared."

-- With Altidore and defender Matt Besler suffering hamstring injuries and with Bedoya picking up what he described as a hip-pointer against Ghana, one reporter wondered aloud if the Americans' grueling pre-Cup training camp might be catching up with them. Not so, said Klinsmann. "It's a result of a very physical game, fast-paced, very demanding, and demanding conditions," he said. "I think our preparation went really, really well. We were lucky not to have any injuries (before). We slowed it down before that game so everybody was fresh. Everybody was good."

Doug McIntyre

Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has watched or attended almost every U.S. men's national team game since Paul Caligiuri's "shot heard 'round the world" and has covered the Yanks for The Mag since 2005. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.