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Counterattack

The United States Should Want Ronaldo to Play

Portugal's biggest star is injured and might not play against the United States on Sunday. For a variety of reasons, that might be the worst thing possible for the Americans.

BY Noah Davis Posted
June 19, 2014
11:05 AM
RECIFE, Brazil—Call me crazy, but I think the United States men's national team would be better served to play Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo in the starting lineup.

The 2013 Ballon d'Or winner is hobbled, a combination of knee and thigh issues. Here's the key part of ASN EIC's John Godfrey's informative What's going on with Portugal report: "The latest hubub about Ronaldo's distressed left knee tendon is that his personal physician has chimed in on the topic: Playing on it could cause Ronaldo permanent damage, according to various reports, thus jeopardizing Ronaldo's (very lucrative) career. Is it true? Did he really say that? I have no idea."

Good news, right? Well, maybe not.

For one thing, there's the athlete attitude (arrogance?) of wanting to beat the best player on the other team. A result against a Ronaldo-led Portugal would be sweeter for the American side than one without him. And, of course, it would play better back home where everyone wants to see the U.S. defeat the best. The soccer haters would have too many excuses if the U.S. didn't have to go through Ronaldo.

But I think there's a gameplay reason to want Ronaldo to play as well. If he takes the field, he will clearly not be 100 percent. He might be thinking about his knee, his career, his future. Distraction can be a dangerous thing. And look, Ronaldo is a great player at 90 percent, but he's not the world-beater then. He can be contained, be shut down, be stopped. The Germans did it; the U.S. can as well. (A question: Should Jurgen Klinsmann consider starting DeAnde Yedlin, who isn't afraid of anything, at right back in place of Fabian Johnson, who is wonderful going forward but not the best one-on-one defender in the world? Just a thought. Also, might we see Timmy Chandler, who's more physical than DaMarcus Beasley, on the left?)

Furthermore, Portugal's attack runs through Ronaldo, often to the detriment of scoring chances. Look, if you have the best player in the world, you have to give him the ball most of the time. But the rest of the Portuguese team almost looks scared not to pass to their appointed leader, choosing to dish to a covered Ronaldo when they have other, better options. Gum in the wheels, folks. Gum in the wheels.

I don't know what happens if Ronaldo doesn't play, but I do know that they look vulnerable when he does.

Sometimes in the World Cup you want to take the known evil rather than the greater unknown. Even when that known quantity is Mr. Cristiano Ronaldo.

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