The US were one headed ball away from advancing to the knockout stages. They were one blocked cross away. One easily preventable turnover away from celebrating and not caring whether they win, lose or draw against Germany on Thursday in the teams’ final group stage games at the World Cup in Brazil.
Instead, all the scenarios of how they advance and how they miss out will be played endlessly the next four days.
In short, a win or a draw against Germany and the US advance anyways. A draw between Portugal and Ghana and the US advance. In length, (though not in complete length) a Ghana win by two goals or more, coupled with a US loss knocks the US out. A Portuguese win by at least four goals coupled with a US loss by at least two goals knocks the US out. (That’s what’s maddening, Portugal has nearly no chance to advance, yet they found a reason to ruin the US’ chance to go through.)
Regardless, like the US men’s soccer team must do, we’ll look back before looking forward.
1. Ronaldo allowed to go free
And delivers the game-tying assist. For the majority of the game, Cristiano Ronaldo was frustrated, just like we said the US needed to do. Hound Ronaldo, make him play poorly, make him quit.
The injured Portuguese captain looked like he was done playing the last 10 minutes. Then, somehow in a game that was in its fifth and final minute of stoppage time Ronaldo received a pass on a counterattack, and delivered just about the most perfect pass a player can make, connecting with Silvestre Varela for a Portuguese lifeline.
On the play, Ronaldo touched the ball once to receive the pass. Then a quick step without touching the ball and then, boom-boom. Game tied.
Plenty of mistakes surrounded the play: Michael Bradley’s turnover, no one telling Geoff Cameron about a quickly closing Varela, and Fabian Johnson letting up as a fresher Varela sprinted toward goal.
But Ronaldo delivered when he was allowed to.
2. Jermaine Jones is really good
For the second consecutive game, the German-American midfielder was dominant throughout. Jones was all over the field again. He had chances to score, he helped defend.
The player who has routinely been a lightning rod among American fans as to whether or not he belongs in the starting roster (this writer included) has been absolutely fabulous in both games.
Jones is showing why US coach Jurgen Klinsmann put so much faith in his fellow countryman and should continue to do so. Jones will be a key figure (again) in trying to limit the powerful German midfield.
3. Disappointment in a draw with Portugal
It says a lot about American soccer when the US can come away from a match with Portugal with absolute disappointment in settling for a draw.
The end result is the end result. But when you watch this game again the US deserved a victory. They outplayed Portugal nearly from the sixth minute on.
After Nani’s gift goal in the 5th minute on a horrendously misplayed clearance attempt by central defender Geoff Cameron, the US settled in and carried possession. The final possession numbers were 52 percent Portugal, 48 percent US. It seemed like it should have gone the other way.
Somehow Portugal left the half leading 1-0. But the US scored two deserving goals, the second Clint Dempsey’s belly shot in the 81st minute to give the US the lead.
Here were the Americans, leading one of the world’s soccer powers and it felt like it shouldn’t have been a shock.
It was a big step for the US, but it’ll be a small footnote if they can’t get beyond the group stage on Thursday.