By Mary Cunningham

With Monday’s 2-1 win over Ghana, neither U. S. manager Juergen Klinsmann nor his players were wasting time celebrating Tuesday because much work remains to be done.

And their second chore, which they tackle Sunday, figures to be much tougher than the first.

“We’ve switched gears already,” Klinsmann said. “Our total focus is on Portugal now. Ghana is far away from us already.

“We knew it was very, very important to get those three points. We worked hard for it. It was a very tricky game. But our mind is 100 percent on Portugal from now on.”

Well, not really. The U.S. may have come out of the Ghana game with three points, but it also came out with three injuries, leaving it hobbled as it prepares for the world’s fourth-ranked team in Portugal and the world’s reigning player of the year in Cristiano Ronaldo.

How hobbled is unclear because U.S. Soccer did not release results of Tuesday’s MRIs on striker Jozy Altidore and defender Matt Besler.

Not that either one figures to be a big surprise.

Altidore’s test is unlikely to show anything positive. He left the field midway through the first half Monday in tears and on a stretcher after straining the same left hamstring that caused him to miss substantial time in 2011 and 2013. And although Klinsmann made happy talk about Altidore’s possible return later in the tournament, his World Cup is probably over.

The news on Besler is more positive. He limped through the final minutes of the first half before coming out at the start of the second with a tight right hamstring, but multiple people described that move as more precautionary than necessary.

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

Then there’s captain Clint Dempsey (photo above), who sustained a broken nose after taking a kick to the face in the first half. Even though another blow could cause serious damage, Dempsey is expected to play Sunday, probably with a protective plastic face guard.

Fortunately for the U.S., Portugal will be even more short-handed. Pepe, the team’s best defender, is suspended for the game after drawing a red card in Monday’s loss to Germany, while team doctor Henrique Jones said left back Fabio Coentrao and striker Hugo Almeida will likely miss the rest of the World Cup with injuries.

Portugal was also battered on the scoreboard Monday. Its 4-0 loss, combined with the Americans’ win over Ghana, gives the U.S. a commanding lead in goal differential, the first tiebreaker should both teams finish group play with the same point total.

One game into the World Cup, then, and it’s all lining up perfectly for Klinsmann. In fact, maybe things are going too well.

That might explain why the perpetually upbeat coach seemed so glum Tuesday afternoon. Gone were the goofy grin and nervous laugh, replaced by dread and uncertainty.

The U.S. came into the World Cup a decided underdog – not just in the tournament, but in its group. Only two of the four teams would advance and few counted the U.S. among that number.

Klinsmann, a master motivator, milked that, calling it a lack of respect and repeatedly challenging his players to prove their critics wrong. At times he even joined the chorus, insisting his team might advance out of group play but no way could it compete for the World Cup title.

Prove the coach wrong he was saying.

So minutes before Vice President Joe Biden entered the locker room Monday to congratulate the players, Klinsmann admonished them.

“One of the first things he said was, ‘We have got a lot of things to work on,’ ” midfielder Alejandro Bedoya recalled Tuesday.

Klinsmann is no stranger to the rare demands and pressure of the World Cup, having played in three and coached in his second. One game is a beginning not an end.

“It’s always difficult to move on from an emotional ending of a game into the next game,” he said. “(We’re) always telling the players, ‘Stay on the ground, stay focused, and the next game is more difficult than the one we just played.’

“The trick now is getting everyone focused on Portugal, on their situation, on our scouting work. We only talk now how we can beat this Portuguese team. This is our goal. We believe in it.”


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