NBA champs inspire Jermaine Jones
SAO PAULO -- United States midfielder Jermaine Jones says his team can take some inspiration from the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs ahead of Sunday's meeting with Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal.
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"A team is important, not just two or three players," Jones said when asked whether the Americans can learn anything from the team-first Spurs, who beat the superstar-laden Miami Heat in five games.
"The NBA Finals showed how it works," Jones said. "If you stick together like a team, and fight like a team ...you will win the game.
"The Spurs were the better team, and that is why they won the championship."
Like the Heat with LeBron James, Portugal boasts arguably the best player in the sport; Ronaldo was named by FIFA's as the planet's top player for 2012-13.
But American right-back Fabian Johnson, who could be charged with containing the Real Madrid star, said the U.S. has to worry about more than the Ballon d'Or winner.
"It's not just Ronaldo," Johnson said. "They have great players, good players, and we have to stop all of them -- not just focus on one guy."
Still, the Americans will have to keep tabs on Ronaldo at all times. The 29-year-old may have been slowed by a lingering knee injury in Portugal's disastrous 4-0 loss to Germany in Monday's Group G opener. But he still has the ability to change a game in an instant.
"He doesn't need many touches," midfielder Kyle Beckerman said. "You've got to just be on high alert when he touches the ball because he's just so dangerous."
Portugal will be without defenders Pepe (suspension) and Fabio Coentrao (groin). The Yanks will be short-handed, too; the U.S. Soccer Federation confirmed Thursday that striker Jozy Altidore, who strained his left groin in the first half of Monday's win over Ghana in Natal, would not play against the Portuguese.
But striker Clint Dempsey will be available despite breaking his nose against the Black Stars. So will defender Matt Besler, who was substituted at halftime of Monday's match after feeling what a U.S. Soccer spokesman described as "tightness" in his right hamstring.
Aron Johannsson or Chris Wondolowski is expected to start in place of Altidore.
"Jozy's out for next game so it's bad news, but I think the team will handle it," Jones said. "We will try to make it our own game, look what we can do and not what can Portugal do, or what can Cristiano do ... when we stick together as a team, like we did against Ghana, then I think we have a chance to win this game."