Charles Boehm is covering the USMNT and the World Cup for Gothamist from Brazil for the duration of the tournament. He has covered MLS and the American soccer scene since 2004, contributing to, The Soccer Wire, and

SAO PAULO - Yes, we expect him to play; no, we're not certain how we'll stop him; and of course, we can't lose track of his teammates.

In a nutshell, that was more or less the U.S. Men's National Team's response to another barrage of questions about Portugal and their main man Cristiano Ronaldo on Thursday, as three players were briefly made available to speak to the media before the USMNT's morning practice at Sao Paulo FC's Barra Funda training complex.

The reigning FIFA World Player of the Year, Ronaldo is the most fearsome individual player the U.S. are likely to meet in Brazil. But the Real Madrid superstar's health has been a constant topic of conversation—and speculation—this month as he nurses a condition called tendinosis in his left knee, a degenerative tendon issue that reportedly prompted Portuguese surgeon Jose Carlos Noronha to urge the 29-year-old to immediately take two months' rest, or risk career-ending damage.

All the same, the USMNT expect him to be staring back at them when they take the field in the steamy Amazon city of Manaus on Sunday evening. After their 4-0 opening-match demolition at the hands of Germany, a loss to the U.S.—and for that matter, probably even a draw—would end Portugal's hopes of advancement out of Group G.
“Absolutely,” said midfielder Kyle Beckerman. “We hear all that stuff, but we're preparing that he'll be playing.”

Jurgen Klinsmann's team is less sure about where Ronaldo, whose rare blend of strength, speed and skill makes him a devastating weapon both on the wings and up front as a striker, will look to attack them.

“I think I'm going to play my game as always. I don't know where he's going to play because sometimes it seems like he's moving all around,” said U.S. right back Fabian Johnson, a leading candidate to face off against Ronaldo. “I don't know if he's going to play left wing or striker or right winger.”

Midfielder Jermaine Jones emphasized that there's much more to Portugal than just one player. Yet he also claimed that the U.S. are more of a complete team, pointing to the San Antonio Spurs' defeat of LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.

“We as a team have a lot of respect for Cristiano, he's a great player,” said Jones. “But I think you have to have respect for the whole team of Portugal. They have a lot of good players—OK, he's the key player, but we have respect for everybody and we try first to make our own game, look what we can do and not what Portugal can do or Cristiano can do.

“It's up to us - when we stick together as a team and fight like we do against Ghana, then I think we have a chance to win this game.”

A hint of frustration could be detected from the players as journalist after journalist tossed out question after question about Ronaldo, and Beckerman underlined that the U.S. are taking a positive, not fearful approach to the task of shutting down the world's best player.

“Yeah, sure, I mean, a guy named [Lionel] Messi,” he said when asked if he'd ever faced off against a player of Ronaldo's caliber. “They're unbelievable players and it's fun, it's good to play against them. That's what you want. And so it'll be an unbelievable challenge for us, and it's going to take all of us to be able to stop him and beat their team.”

By Charles Boehm