Brazil 2014: World Cup Group G – USMNT 2-2 Portugal
Heartbreak and pride in Manaus; OTF’s Joe Maskivish brings the USMNT vs. Portugal review…
Absolutely and utterly gutted. Sure, the United States still has a very real and optimistic chance of advancing out of Group G. They went toe-to-toe with some of the best, displaying a class rarely seen in U.S. soccer history, and just about put the world on notice.
We’ll get to all that later. For now, as fans, the result Sunday evening feels like a kick in the gut. The Yanks were a simple header, a Geoff Cameron clearance away from advancing to the knockout round after two games. Before anyone in the “Group of Death.”
As difficult as the ending may have been, looking at the match as a whole should elicit pride as an American supporter. Battling back from an early fluke goal off a failed Cameron clearance (seeing a trend here?), the U.S. drew even with the Portuguese and later took the lead.
The initial United States goal, off the right boot of Jermaine Jones, was one of the best strikes of the opening round. As soon as the bender hit the back of the net, an instant sensation enveloped those screaming for the Red, White and Blue: the feeling that cracking the tough nut of Portugal would lead to more.
More happened less than 20 minutes later, as a play begun by DeAndre Yedlin ended with Clint Dempsey chesting home the go-ahead goal. At that point, it felt as though this was going to happen tonight.
It all came crashing down when Cristiano Ronaldo decided he wanted to play like the best player in the world. Shut down for the majority of the match, Ronaldo was able to create chances here-and-there. Surprisingly, when those chances were created, Ronaldo’s skill let him down. Continuously mis-hitting his shots, it appeared it just wasn’t his night.
With mere seconds remaining in stoppage time, Ronaldo’s world-class cross was headed home by Silvestre Varela and the American party was put on hold. It was the equivalent of a 0-2 hanging curveball getting knocked into the left field bleachers with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.
The U.S. defense, much the topic of conversation heading into the tournament, held up well against the Ballon d’Or winner and his teammates. However, two plays are going to haunt Geoff Cameron for years to come. Win as a team, lose as a team is the reality of sports and no one (or two) plays win or lose a game. Nonetheless, the truth is Cameron’s whiffed clearance attempt early on and his poor marking at the end kept the U.S. from celebrating a victory.
Looking at the game as a whole, the positives far outweigh the negatives. The U.S. was able to maintain much more possession than against Ghana (52/48 in favor of Portugal vs 60/40 for Ghana) and was able to create chances off that possession. Michael Bradley’s improved play made a world of difference and Clint Dempsey, playing as a lone forward, was dangerous.
This is arguably the best complete performance the U.S. has ever had in a World Cup match. Coming against a top European opponent should give hope for the future. Not just the future of the program, but the future in this tournament.
The odds of advancing are in the Americans’ favor. A win or a draw against Germany will put them through. While that might be a monumental task, given Germany also has yet to advance, a loss could see the Yanks through with help. A myriad of possibilities in the Ghana-Portugal match, to be played simultaneously, leaves hope should the U.S. come up short against Germany.
As time causes the initial shock to fade, optimism begins to creep back in. Many believed Portugal to be a wounded animal, one which should provide little resistance to the upstart Americans. What cannot be ignored is, while the Portuguese depth was indeed tested, the European squad still possesses many quality players. As much as Jurgen Klinsmann wants his guys playing in the Champions League regularly, Sunday night a mostly MLS-based squad outplayed several Champions League players.
Everything was improved for the U.S. and several individuals stepped up from poor performances against Ghana. Most notably, Michael Bradley was his old self again, possessing the ball and moving forward. The play of the fullbacks, DaMarcus Beasley and Fabian Johnson, was undeniably better. Both men constantly moved up-and-down their flanks, moving the attack forward and locking down the Portuguese wings.
Most impressive was the play of Clint Dempsey. Much was said after the release of the lineups that Dempsey does not thrive as a lone forward. He proved the naysayers wrong by looking dangerous throughout. Consistently making runs and chasing down long balls to soften up the Portugal defense, Dempsey’s determination was an enormous factor.
What we witnessed was not only heart, will, and desire, but also quality football. The results were just another instance of the cruelty that is this game, yet the fact remains, if the United States’ style on display in Manaus can be repeated, the future looks bright.
Onto Germany and a match with more storylines than any of the games in Group G. Before we get there, let’s take one final look back:
Can the U.S. keep Cristiano Ronaldo off the scoreboard?
While his name won’t be listed in the goal column, Ronaldo’s assist in stoppage time showed the impact he can have on any game. The U.S. was able to bottle him up, yet he still found a way to break hearts.
Will the one-on-one defending of the American fullbacks be improved?
The play of both fullbacks was extraordinarily improved. This growth included remarkable one-on-one defending, as the Portuguese attack lacked teeth.
Will the U.S. have the opportunity to possess the ball more than against Ghana?
The U.S. possessed the ball much more this match and the overall improvement in play stemmed from holding the ball.
Can the U.S. exploit the substitutes thrust into the starting lineup for Portugal?
It’s hard to believe the result would have been any different had Portugal’s regular starting XI played. Though we were robbed a chance for Pepe to headbutt Clint Dempsey and get sent off.
When the final whistle blows, will the U.S. be celebrating a trip to the knockout round?
Moments away from a coast-to-coast celebration, it was not to be. Not all is lost, though, as the odds are still with us
OTF Man of the Match: Clint Dempsey
This selection could have been Jermaine Jones again. The German-American has easily been the Man of the Tournament for the Yanks. Clint Dempsey, however, fighting through a broken nose, was outstanding as the lone forward in a lineup without Jozy Altidore. Scoring the go-ahead goal at the time, Dempsey’s effort showed why he wears the captain’s arm band.
Need more World Cup and USMNT chat?
OTF’s Joe Maskivish will be tracking USMNT’s World Cup preparations and progress until the boys come back from Brazil. Follow him @JoeMaskivish.