The US set up a collective wall and then exhaled a collective sigh when they advanced to the World Cup knockout stages despite losing 1-0 to Germany on Thursday in Brazil.
Not only should the US send a thank-you bouquet to Pepe of Portugal but they should also send two bouquets to Cristiano Ronaldo for scoring that goal in the 80th minute against Ghana that essentially sealed the US’ trip to the next round.
But while the US can acknowledge those other performances, they can also take a bow themselves. They escaped the Group of Death because of their hard work — beating Ghana 2-1 in the opener and earning a draw against Portugal.
Then there were these three keys from Thursday’s performance that sent the US through.
1. Defense, defense, defense
This was our No. 1 key heading into the game against Germany. And the US followed it maybe a bit too closely.
The United States might have touched the ball in the first 12 minutes, but if they did, it was an accident. Germany came out looking like the powerhouse they are expected to be. They took advantage with a United States squad that sat extremely deep in its own end and couldn’t get out when they wanted to.
But with nine men packed in deep, it allowed the US to clear the ball when they had to and to hold the Germans off from putting one in early. It allowed Tim Howard to make the saves without giving up dangerous rebounds.
The US gave up the one decisive goal in the game, and that was pretty much all the Americans could afford to do without scoring if they wanted to advance. Germany were all over the Americans throughout the match, but the US did enough to keep that second goal out of the net.
2. Bradley-Jones combination
The central midfield pairing of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones yet again worked wonderfully.
Before you jump all over and point out how horrible Bradley was (and he was) look at his defensive play and defensive interaction with Jones in the first half. The two of them worked interchangeably through the midfield, with Jones jumping forward and Bradley falling back, while Bradley was naturally more forward and Jones naturally deeper.
Now if only Bradley could start to connect on his passes and not give away the ball half the time he touches it.
3. A change at center back
Omar Gonzalez, whose only performance in the World Cup was coming on against Portugal and watching Silvestre Varela score to delay the US from advancing, somehow got the start against Germany.
Part of that switch was a commentary on Geoff Cameron’s poor play against Portugal, part of it was because Cameron needed a rest, as US coach Jurgen Klinsmann told TV after the game.
Klinsmann reunited Gonzalez with Matt Besler, a pairing that was successful at the CONCACAF Gold Cup two summers ago and worked during World Cup qualifying when both players were healthy.
Gonzalez proved valuable with several key tackles in the box and a hustle back to force a Germany attack to go wide of the goal.
It’ll be interesting to see if Klinsmann stays with them or goes back to Cameron on Tuesday.
You know, Tuesday, when the US takes on Belgium in the knockout stages.