U.S. hoping to carry momentum from first game into clash with Portugal

The U.S. opened the World Cup with a thrilling 2-1 win over nemesis Ghana on John Brooks’ 86th-minute goal.

The match drew 11.09 million viewers on ESPN, a record for men’s soccer on the network. And after decades when U.S. soccer fans felt outnumbered — even at home games — players took notice of the raucous red, white and blue-clad crowd at Arena das Dunas in Natal.

The Americans are hoping to ride that wave of momentum into today’s pivotal Group G game against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal. Players hope to become the first American team to win consecutive World Cup games since a 2-0 start at the very first tournament in 1930.

“It was an incredible feeling, the support we had from the fans in the stadium along with the fans in every part of the country. We felt that,” said midfielder Graham Zusi, whose corner kick was headed in by Brooks. “It just makes me want more of it.”

Both the U.S. and Portugal are dealing with some injury issues.

For the Americans, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Matt Besler and Alejandro Bedoya all got hurt to various degrees against Ghana, though Altidore is the only one who appears unlikely to play against the Portuguese today.

Portugal has injuries and will have to change the right side of its defense. Pepe was ejected in Monday’s 4-0 loss to Germany after he appeared to head butt Thomas Mueller. Right back Fabio Coentrao was taken off on a stretcher and forward Hugo Almeida limped off. Coentrao is out for the tournament.

The U.S won its World Cup opener for only the third time in 10 tries, following a 3-0 victory over Belgium in 1930 and a 3-2 win against Portugal in 2002. The Americans advanced to the semifinals in 1930 and the quarterfinals in 2002.

If the U.S. ties fourth-ranked Portugal and No. 2 Germany defeats Ghana, the Americans would head to their third match in prime position to advance.

If the Americans and Germans win, the U.S. clinches with a game to spare.

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