2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Soccer gods smiling on Team USA?

Published: June 19, 2014, 5:59 am, by Scott Kaniewski
United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his squad are in a pretty good spot at the World Cup. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his squad are in a pretty good spot at the World Cup. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Allow us a little leeway here, but there’s a lot of strange goings-on at the 2014 edition of the World Cup way down in Brazil, so if we want to take a jump we think we’re entitled.

On the list of strange and mystical occurrences:

• Spain, the defending champion and the best team in soccer over the last eight years, is already eliminated from the tournament and still has a game to play.

• Mexico, a team that had to go to a playoff with lowly New Zealand just to get into the tournament, has yet to lose and earned a much-deserved draw against host Brazil.

• Uruguay, a semifinalist in 2010 and a hopeful to again return, was blasted by Costa Rica 3-1.

• When the Netherlands rallied from a 2-1 deficit against Australia to win 3-2 on Wednesday it marked the seventh come-from-behind victory of this tournament in a sport known for teams hunkering down defensively to protect leads.

John Brooks celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal for the US against Ghana on Monday. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

John Brooks celebrates after scoring the game-winning goal for the US against Ghana on Monday. (AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan)

So many strange events going on that we’re starting to wonder what kind of run can Team USA go on? Plenty of other surprises are going on, why not the United States flashing a few of its own?

A few peculiar events are happening in Group G too, where the US was drawn. This year’s so-called Group of Death includes perennial semifinalist Germany, fellow European power Portugal and US nemesis Ghana.

One round in and the US is sitting in second place in the group, trailing only Germany on goal differential. That in itself is surprising. But that’s only the beginning of several instances that have us scratching our heads wondering if this might be another magical run for the US, a la 2002.

The US entered the tournament knowing it was going to face Ghana, the team responsible for the Americans’ last two exits from the World Cup. The US banished that hex and the Black Stars’ famed witch doctor with a goal 32 seconds in and a game-winner 3 minutes from the end of the game. That game-winning goal was scored by 21-year-old John Brooks, a player that nearly didn’t make the roster and who was only inserted when Matt Besler had to leave with a tight hamstring.

Cristiano Ronaldo leaves the pitch with ice on his left knee after a Portugal practice on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Paulo Duarte)

Cristiano Ronaldo leaves the pitch with ice on his left knee after a Portugal practice on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Paulo Duarte)

Next up is Portugal on Sunday. Anything odd there? Only the fact that one of the world’s best players might not get to face Team USA. On Wednesday, reports surfaced that Cristiano Ronaldo had been ruled out of the rest of the tournament with his ailing knee. Since then, reports have claimed that Ronaldo will play this weekend.

Even if he does, Portugal is without central defender Pepe, who found a reason to head butt his way to a red card against Germany, earning him an extra day off against the US. Portugal is already missing a couple other players with injuries, leaving a less-than-full-strength squad to face the US deep in the Amazon.

If the US gets past Portugal, whether by win or by draw, they will all but have qualified for the knockout stages. Then comes the showdown with Germany. Die Mannschaft (translation: The Machine) rolled through Portugal 4-0. But Germany has injury problems — of course, they are problems the US and about 75 percent of the teams in the tournament wouldn’t mind having if it meant carrying all that excess talent on the roster. But is there enough of an injury woe that the US might be able to play defense and nick a goal late to win the group and possibly face a team other than Belgium in the first round of the knockout stages? Probably not.

But with the way this World Cup of oddities is shaping up, who knows?

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