The U.S. team has been peppered with questions about Cristiano Ronaldo in the run-up to Sunday's game with Portugal in Manaus —so much so that more than a few players have grown tired of answering them.
U.S. midfielder Jermaine Jones found a unique take on that subject, comparing the star power of Portugal to the Miami Heat with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. That individual talent didn't help Miami much in the NBA Finals, where it lost to the dazzling teamwork of the San Antonio Spurs.
"A team is important, not just in two or three players," Jones said. "So if you stick together like a team and fight like a team … you will win the game. The NBA Finals showed how it works. The Spurs were the better team and that is why they won the championship."
"We definitely have to stop him," he said of Ronaldo, "but we don't want anyone else to beat us. Right now we're still just fine-tuning that game plan in how to stop that whole team.
"We're not just focusing on one guy because when you do that, [there are] 10 other guys out there that can beat you."
U.S. players weren't the only ones who have grown weary of Ronaldo questions. At Portugal's news conference Friday in Campinas, the majority of the questions were also about Ronaldo and the ice he's been applying to his sore knee during training. Eventually Portuguese striker Helder Postiga snapped.
"After the training today there were 10 players applying ice on themselves," Postiga chided reporters. "That cannot be a reason to create so many rumors about Cristiano.
"Cristiano is training; he's fine. He is going to be important for us. He is going to help the team. We all have a common goal."
Ref from U.S. in the final?
Brian Hall, who made it deeper in a World Cup than any U.S. referee when he worked a semifinal of the 2002 tournament as the fourth official, says New Jersey's Mark Geiger could make it to the final this summer given his solid performance in his first two games in Brazil.
"Geiger, for sure, will surpass me," Hall said Friday. "It is easy to say that he is line for the final."
Hall, an executive with the Professional Referees Organization, the group that employs Geiger and all Major League Soccer referees, says U.S. officials are getting new respect. When he was chosen to referee Italy's opening match of the 2002 World Cup, Hall said a reporter questioned his ability to work a game at that level.
Geiger and his three-man crew hasn't faced that question.
"Going back three, four World Cups ago, to ever think an American referee could do a semifinal or final in the FIFA World Cup, would have been a stretch," Hall said. "Just because of the way that soccer in the United States was viewed at the time."
Hodgson back for 2016
England Coach Roy Hodgson received a major vote of confidence Friday, just hours before his team made its earliest departure from a World Cup in more than five decades.
The English Football Assn. said it has asked Hodgson, who has been roundly criticized at home after England lost its first two games here, to remain in charge of the national team until 2016, as planned. Although England still has one World Cup game left to play, its path to the second round was closed Friday when Costa Rica beat Italy.
The last time England failed to get beyond group play was 1958, when it didn't win a game.
"We're supportive of Roy Hodgson. We've asked him to stay as manager," FA chairman Greg Dyke said Friday. "We do not see any value in changing."