In the unlikely event that Antonio Oliveira has had trouble sleeping lately because of concern over what sort of World Cup threat the United States will pose, Portugal's coach can rest easy now.
There is an excellent chance that the 11 American players who will take the field Wednesday night in the Seoul suburb of Suwon will never have played together as a team.
That's right, never. Last-minute injuries could rob the U.S. of two players who were being counted on heavily: Claudio Reyna to set up the goals and Clint Mathis to score them.
On Monday afternoon, Reyna said he considered his chances of playing "no better than 50-50" because of a strained right thigh muscle. That pessimistic assessment raised Coach Bruce Arena's eyebrows an inch or so when he heard Reyna's honest answer.
Mathis, meanwhile, practiced only briefly Monday before being carted off for an MRI on his left knee, which is causing him discomfort. The striker tore the anterior cruciate ligament in the same knee several years ago, just as he'd torn the right ACL exactly a year ago on Wednesday.
Monday's scan proved negative, Arena said, but Mathis still is considered a questionable starter.
Arena came here without a clear-cut and experienced replacement for injured Chris Armas in defensive midfield, and his outside backs, Tony Sanneh and David Regis, have inspired little confidence. Now, the injuries to Reyna and Mathis, and the loss of form of several other players, could prompt Arena to shuffle players around just to cover the deficiencies in his lineup.
The possible loss of Reyna for one or more games is especially bad news.
"I'm upset," Reyna said. "I'd rather not be injured. I'd rather be doing everything 100%. But that's the reality. I've dealt with it before. Every team has injured players.
"Me and Clint, at the moment, are the guys who are a little bit banged up The worst-case scenario, I think, would be just missing one game and being ready for the next two.
"I still have all day today and tomorrow to get treatment, and hopefully if it responds and if tomorrow night at training I can do everything to help the team Wednesday, then I'll play.
"But I wouldn't put myself in any danger. I think it wouldn't help the team if I'm not 100% or even, say, 90%. I think I can only just damage myself and not really help the team."
Mathis' access to the media was controlled Monday. He was quickly escorted past reporters in the "mixed zone" area set up at the team's hotel without being allowed to comment on his injury.
Arena and Reyna gave conflicting answers when asked about Mathis' status.
"He practiced briefly today," Arena said. "We took a precautionary MRI and found nothing. So he is fine. He had a little inflammation, and we just wanted to make sure he was OK. I'm glad to say it went well, and it is not a concern."
"He and I are really in the same boat, where it's about a 50-50 [chance of playing]," the U.S. team captain said.
Mathis has been touted as the likely breakout player for the U.S. at the World Cup, the one who would do well enough to secure a move to a European club. In recent weeks, he has been featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated and profiled in the New York Times magazine and TV Guide.
He has also been the only player this year who has been able to spark the U.S. offense. If he cannot play against Portugal and if out-of-form Brian McBride is not selected, Arena's forwards on Wednesday could be Joe-Max Moore and Josh Wolff, or even Landon Donovan.
Considering the speed, power and experience of the Portuguese attack, concerns on defense are greater for the U.S. than those on offense.
To that end, central defender Jeff Agoos has trained both in that position and at left back, in case Arena decides that Regis is not his starter. Also training at left back, although U.S. spokesmen declined to confirm it, has been Frankie Hejduk, who normally plays at right back.
Arena, not wanting to tip his hand on any possible moves, dismissed that as being the norm, saying that Hejduk plays both sides of the field on defense the same as Cobi Jones does in midfield.
"Frankie is a good one-on-one defender, with good quickness and defends very well off the ball," he said. "He is one of our better defenders. And in terms of one-on-one duels, he does a pretty solid job."
The U.S. team is scheduled to hold a closed-door practice at the Suwon World Cup Stadium on Tuesday night and, a team spokesman said, it is unlikely anyone will know Arena's starting lineup until an hour before Wednesday night's game.
By then, miraculous cures could have occurred--the World Cup being a prime stage for disinformation campaigns--or the American lineup could have an unfamiliar look.
"We have been so used to injuries that we have rarely played with our whole starting group over the last three years," Arena said. "One thing about this team is that we're always prepared to make adjustments. So in that sense we're comfortable.
"Would we like to have Chris Armas here? Yes. Not going to happen. Would the French like to have had [Zinedine] Zidane in the opening game? Not going to happen. Would the Brazilians like to have Emerson? I mean, it's all part of it. It's happening to every team. It's not just the U.S. team."
And is that troubling to Arena?
"No," he said. "I think I'll sleep pretty well tonight and tomorrow. I'm confident with our group of players, whomever has to play."
All the same, Portugal's Oliveira probably is sleeping even better.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun