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updated: 6/21/2014 10:05 PM

Fire's Mathis to U.S. World Cup team: Go for it

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  • United States' Aron Johannsson celebrates his team's 2-1 victory over Ghana during the group G World Cup soccer match between Ghana and the United States at the Arena das Dunas in Natal, Brazil, Monday, June 16, 2014.

      United States' Aron Johannsson celebrates his team's 2-1 victory over Ghana during the group G World Cup soccer match between Ghana and the United States at the Arena das Dunas in Natal, Brazil, Monday, June 16, 2014.
    Associated Press

  • Ghana's Jonathan Mensah, right, tries to push aside United States' Aron Johannsson during the group G World Cup soccer match between Ghana and the United States at the Arena das Dunas in Natal, Brazil, Monday, June 16, 2014.

      Ghana's Jonathan Mensah, right, tries to push aside United States' Aron Johannsson during the group G World Cup soccer match between Ghana and the United States at the Arena das Dunas in Natal, Brazil, Monday, June 16, 2014.
    Associated Press

  • Ghana's John Boye, left, and United States' Aron Johannsson go for a header during the group G World Cup soccer match between Ghana and the United States at the Arena das Dunas in Natal, Brazil, Monday, June 16, 2014.

      Ghana's John Boye, left, and United States' Aron Johannsson go for a header during the group G World Cup soccer match between Ghana and the United States at the Arena das Dunas in Natal, Brazil, Monday, June 16, 2014.
    Associated Press

 
 

Clint Mathis knows what it's like to score in a World Cup. He also knows the feeling of defeating powerful Portugal in a World Cup.

So when Mathis says the U.S. can take Sunday's Group G game to Portugal (5 p.m., ESPN), the man speaks from experience.

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"I think they need to go out and play," said Mathis, now a Chicago Fire assistant coach. "I think the worst thing that the U.S. can do is sit back and hopefully ask for a draw. You see the best teams in the world that sit back, and whether they keep possession or not they end up giving up or conceding a goal. As long as they don't sit back I think they're going to be all right."

Mathis played an important role for the team that stunned heavily favored Portugal in group play at the 2002 World Cup. He believes the United States can win again, and he said that before tiny Costa Rica upset mighty Italy on Friday.

"Oh, for sure," Mathis said. "With the red card on Pepe, a couple of injuries that (the Portuguese) have, supposedly (Cristiano) Ronaldo is not feeling 100 percent or whatever the case might be, I think they can definitely get a result. I think any team in this tournament should feel that they can get a result.

"Physically, the U.S. has always been able to match up with a lot of the big teams, and especially a team like Portugal. But they're going to have to still play. It's going to be hard for any team to sit back and defend for 90 minutes, especially (against) a team like Portugal."

Mathis, one of the best scorers this country ever produced, also said the United States can score without injured striker Jozy Altidore.

"They did it last time," Mathis said, noting the Americans' 2-1 victory Monday against nemesis Ghana.

"It's going to be a different concept, not having a guy like Jozy be strong, be able to hold the ball," Mathis said. "He's able to run in behind guys. It's going to be a little bit different in that respect. But I think the U.S. (has) guys they can bring in off the bench, whether it's a guy like (Aron) Johannsson to be able to keep the ball and maybe work it down the flanks and get numbers in the box."

The Americans' first goal Monday came off a quick play following a throw-in, and Altidore was on the field for that one. But the play didn't involve the Sunderland man, and there's no reason the Americans can't score that way again against Portugal.

That's not necessarily the U.S. strength, though. The United States might be most dangerous off restarts, when they can bring forward big, strong defenders like John Brooks, Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron for headers. Besler is said to be available Sunday despite a slight hamstring strain suffered in the first half Monday. He yielded in the second half to Brooks, who scored the game-winner against Ghana.

"Obviously they showed with Brooks offset pieces they're able to still be dynamic and be able to cause problems there, especially against a big, strong, physical team like Ghana," Mathis said. "I think that they'll be able to do the same thing, it's just a little different aspect since they are used to having Jozy."

Who replaces Altidore in the starting lineup remains unclear. Johannsson substituted for Altidore and could get the call to start. Chris Wondolowski is the other forward on the roster. Or coach Jurgen Klinsmann could bring on another midfielder such as Mix Diskerud or Graham Zusi.

"I think that (Johannsson has) done well when he came in," Mathis said. "They've got Wondolowski who's shown that he can score a lot of goals, whether it be in MLS or even with the national team he's scored quite a few goals. But then it's different playing in a World Cup. I hope he does get the opportunity. He can do the same thing that he's showed throughout his career."

The Americans can clinch a berth in the Round of 16 with a victory Sunday. Portugal would be eliminated with a loss.

"Obviously, Portugal is going to be coming, flying at them because their backs are against the wall. Portugal is going to have to go to get a win, so maybe Jurgen does decide to go to a 4-5-1 in that respect. Or he goes, hey, you know what? We've been successful. Let's put another forward on.

"Clint (Dempsey) tends to drop in underneath and maybe like a Johannsson or Wondolowski up top. I think either way it's going to end up being that same type of formation that they've been playing."

• Follow Orrin's soccer reports on Twitter@schwarz_orrin.

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