While it felt like a sucker punch to the gut of the United States soccer team and its fans, perhaps Portugal’s late game-tying goal on Sunday will turn out to be a positive as they try to advance to the Round of 16 of the World Cup.
The U.S. had a 2-1 lead going into the final moments of the game . It was nearly party time, and for many, it already was. With the win, Portugal would have been taken out of the tournament, and the U.S., with last week’s win against Ghana already under its belt, would have advanced to the Round of 16.
It was an improbable scenario, until the lackluster Christiano Ronaldo connected a perfect cross to Portugal’s Silvestre Varela, who then made a perfect game-tying header into the U.S. net in the fifth and final minute of stoppage time. It couldn’t have come any later in the game.
Portugal lived to fight another day. The U.S. celebration for surviving the World Cup’s Group of Death would have to wait another day. After the breathtaking goal that equalized the game, the dejection on the faces of the U.S. team and its fans made it seem that the U.S. team had lost and were packing their bags and headed home from the tournament.
“Anyone who had a chance to be in Manaus will talk about this game for a long time,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann told the Wall Street Journal after the game. “It’s a bummer you have to swallow.”
“We’re kind of sad, I think,” U.S.’s Fabian Johnson said. “If somebody had told us that we were going to have four points after those two games, I think we would take it. But at this point, we are a little bit disappointed. We’ve got to look forward.”
Thinking backward, in 20-20 hindsight, what if it the U.S. team had scored the game-tying goal in the final moment of the game? It would have been huge, and widely celebrated. What a party the fans would have thrown had the U.S. been able to stave off a loss and tied Portugal in a late goal. The outcome is the same, yet it arrived in a very different way. The U.S., despite their depressing tie, has a lot going for them.
According to the New York Times Predictwise odds on Monday, Germany has a 99 percent chance of advancing, while the U.S. has a 78 percent chance of advancing. The U.S. will advance with a tie or win against a very tough Germany squad on Thursday. Should the U.S. lose, its fans, according to The Times, “should be rooting for anything but a Ghana win” in its game against Portugal, because Ghana has the better tiebreaker position with Portugal.
If there is a tie between Ghana and Portugal, the U.S. will advance, no matter what happens with Germany. If Portugal wins and the U.S. loses, Portugal will likely lose the tiebreaker with the U.S.
Of course, if you are feeling very hopeful, the U.S. can win Group G, aka the Death Group, with a win against Germany.
While I would have loved to have seen the U.S. pull out the win against Portugal, I do think it’s for the better if the U.S. takes advancing out of Group G and further into the tournament seriously. Let’s just say that the U.S. did pull the upset win against Portugal; you know the coaches, players and, even, some fans would quickly say, “This is a great win, but we haven’t won anything yet.”
While that professional mindset is the way to move forward, the fact that the underdog U.S. team won two games in the Death Group to advance to the Round of 16 would have been huge. At that point, the question would have been, be how far can the U.S. team really go? All the way? The U.S. team would have been soaring very, very high after a win against Portugal.
Had the U.S. pulled the victory off, they wouldn’t have had to take Germany seriously. They could rest all their starters and lose 8-1 to Germany and still advance. This gets back to what occurs in all professional sports. In the N.F.L.,there’s nothing worse you can do as a head coach than rest your starting players the last game of the season, in preparation for the post season. With third string players leading the charge, you lose your final game 34-3 and have to go into the next week figuring out what went wrong, while the starters dust off their helmets.
The only way to enter into a post season (or the next round of a tournament) is to play to win each and every game. I am happy that the U.S. can’t take it easy during Thursday’s match against Germany. They have to come out and play their best soccer to get a tie or a win.
I also think the U.S. is playing well as the underdogs of the World Cup, something that, had they beat Portugal, they wouldn’t be. Perhaps the win would have gone to their heads, and kept them from playing to the best of their ability? Yes, the Portugal tie sucked, but in the long run, it will help the U.S. keep the focus they will need if they are going to have a chance to make a name for themselves in this tournament.
“Our goal is to go to the next round,” coach Klinsmann said. “We will do everything in our capabilities to go to the next round. We are capable of surprising even more teams in this tournament.”
Hopefully, the Germans get the next surprise.