SAO PAULO, Brazil — No one was saying so directly, but it’s what members of the U.S. World Cup team didn’t say Thursday that spoke the loudest.
With striker Jozy Altidore officially ruled out of Sunday’s game against Portugal with a strained hamstring, U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann has been tight-lipped about how he might replace him. Klinsmann used Aron Johannsson to finish out Monday’s win over Ghana, but Johannsson was largely ineffective.
Another possibility would be to start five midfielders behind lone striker Clint Dempsey, which could benefit the U.S. in two ways. For starters, Graham Zusi and Brad Davis, the leading candidates as an extra midfielder, are more versatile than either Johannsson or Chris Wondolowski, the other option at forward. And second, packing the center of the field could help slow down Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, the reigning world player of the year.
Asked Thursday whether that’s the plan, American midfielders Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman deftly avoided a direct answer — yet neither offered a denial either.
“I don’t know. We’ll see, I guess, what we decide to come out with,” Beckerman said. “Any formation we play it’s going to take an effort from everyone, it’s going to take everybody watching each other’s backs.”
Added Jones: “I don’t know what position the coach will do, how he will play, or what formation he will play. Everybody’s ready and we have to make the next step.”
The United States’ central defender, Matt Besler, who also came out of Monday’s game with a strained hamstring, participated in training Thursday and will be available Sunday.
PORTUGAL AND RONALDO
Portugal is dealing with injury problems of its own. Defender Fabio Coentrao and forward Hugo Almeida have both been ruled out for the rest of the group stage and defender Pepe will miss Sunday’s game because of a red card. Then there’s Ronaldo, who played in his team’s opening loss to Germany but hasn’t been able to fully participate in training because of tendinitis in his left knee.
The U.S. is preparing for Portugal believing Ronaldo will play. But they’re not ignoring his teammates.
“It’s not just Ronaldo, it’s the whole team,” U.S. right back Fabian Johnson said. “They have great players, good players, and we have to stop all of them.”
One way for the U.S. to do that would be to keep the ball away from its opponents, something it didn’t do very well against Ghana. The Americans completed just 66 percent of their passes in that game; only Algeria and Iran did worse in their openers.
“Our best defense is offense, and we have to be extremely clean with the ball,” Beckerman said. “We’re going to have to finish our chances. And if you can go a goal up on them, it helps a big part of that because I think they do like to counterattack.”
FIFA’S SECURITY LAPSE
FIFA acknowledged being embarrassed by a security lapse that let ticketless Chile fans rampage into Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium after its team’s 2-0 win over Spain on Wednesday.
Fences have been breached by fans at both World Cup games staged at the country’s biggest and most prestigious stadium, site of next month’s tournament final.
FIFA director of security Ralf Mutschke said Thursday that security operations at the World Cup must “improve in order that this will not happen again.”
Brazilian authorities said 87 people were detained after smashing their way through a perimeter wire fence into the stadium media center. Fans stampeded through the media working area, knocking down partition walls while trying to gain access to the field. They were detained by some of the 1,000-plus private security officers on duty and will reportedly be deported.
Four days earlier, at least 10 Argentina fans were detained after jumping fences to try to see their team play last Sunday in another sold-out Maracana game against Bosnia-Herzegovina.