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Article updated: 6/16/2014 9:40 PM

Strong start, but U.S. will have to be better

By Orrin Schwarz

The Americans have life in the Group of Death.

The United States did what it had to do Monday against Ghana, getting 3 points with a 2-1 World Cup victory. Next, the Americans need to play better.

"There's undoubtedly things we need to improve," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann told ESPN after the game.

The truth is the United States didn't play very well in their Group G opener. John Brooks was a revelation in the second half, and Jermaine Jones has never been better. But there were far too many sloppy passes, far too many giveaways, far too many heavy touches on the ball.

Central midfielder Michael Bradley in particular, the team's most valuable player, had one of his worst games in a national-team shirt. He seemed out of step defensively, misjudged headers and banged passes out of bounds instead of to open teammates.

There's no reason to believe Bradley won't be better in the next game against Portugal (Sunday, 5 p.m., ESPN). He will have to be. He's the key to maintaining possession, and the United States desperately needs more possession against Portugal. Giving Portugal carte blanche on the ball is a recipe for disaster.

"We have to do a better job of keeping possession, especially in the final third," forward Clint Dempsey said after his team held the ball just 40 percent of the game.

Brooks, a 21-year-old halftime substitute with very little big-time soccer experience, was heroic defensively coming in for Matt Besler after Besler tweaked a hamstring. Throw in his game-winning goal and Brooks suddenly inspires plenty of confidence should Besler not be available.

"He came on in a difficult situation and did really well," Bradley said of Brooks.

Along with steady Geoff Cameron, Besler and Brooks made the center of the U.S. back line seem like a strength, a change from pretournament analysis. They can't let up against Cristiano Ronaldo and Co.

Jones also will need to keep it up while continuing to avoid cards.

Up front, Dempsey has to figure out how to soldier on -- and breathe through 90 minutes in the Amazonian jungle in Manaus -- with what looks like a broken nose.

The way Jozy Altidore grabbed his left hamstring in the 21st minute, it probably would be a mistake to count on him for a while, so Klinsmann will need to adjust.

Aron Johannsson, Altidore's substitute, didn't fare well, so look for Klinsmann to turn to someone else on his 23-man roster against Portugal. He might have to adjust his formation also, bringing on another midfielder, such as Mix Diskerud, making Dempsey the lone forward.

One more thing: The Americans can't have any more injuries to key players.

• Follow Orrin's soccer reports on Twitter @Orrin_Schwarz

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