KENYA BROWN - Tuesday, June 24, 2014
Just when everyone thought the United States national team was set to qualify from Group G in their second game at the World Cup, Portugal snatches an equalizer out of nowhere to end 2-2 in Manaus.
The end was certainly a deflating experience for both U.S. players and fans.
The United States came into Sunday's game knowing they had the chance to accomplish two first. A win against the Iberian side would see the team win two games in a row for the first time since 1930. More importantly, six points would have guaranteed them a place in the knockout stage with one game to spare - another first.
Both teams came into this game with injuries, with Portugal losing left back - and forward Hugo Almeida to muscle injuries. Central defender Pepe was also missing from the game as he received a red card in the team's previous game against Germany.
Meanwhile, the big question for the United States was who would replace forward Jozy Altidore who suffered a hamstring strain in the game against Ghana. Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann chose to move captain Clint Dempsey up top, leaving Aron Johannsson and Chris Wondolowski on the bench, while bringing Graham Zusi into the starting lineup on the right and moving Alejandro Bedoya to the left side of the midfield.
It seemed like the two sides would just feel each other out for the first ten minutes or so, but an early goal would put the Portuguese up 1-0 in the fifth minute. A poor clearance by defender Geoff Cameron after a harmless cross from Miguel Veloso fell to the feet of winger Nani who put it past goalkeeper Tim Howard.
That first good opportunity for the United States would come in the 13th minute as Dempsey's free kick just sailed over the crossbar. The team would continue to press a few minutes later as a through ball from Michael Bradley gave Dempsey another shot at goal, but it was saved by Portuguese goalkeeper Beto.
Fabian Johnson had the best opportunity in the 32nd minute when he got hold of the ball, cut in from the right and took a left-footed shot that just went wide to the right.
Compared with the Ghana game, the United States looked much better in the attack. Despite the missed chances at goal in the first half, there was a feeling that the team would finally get one in the Portuguese goal.
But that would not have mattered if Howard had not made a crucial save near halftime.
A long-range shot from Nani got past the Everton netminder only to hit the post. However, Portuguese forward Eder - who came in earlier for the injured Helder Postiga - attempted to chip the ball over Howard, who somehow got a hand on it while off balance to push it out of bounds.
The disgusted look on Howard's face afterwards showed he should have had his hands on the first attempt and was lucky to stop the second.
Despite the United States being on the attack, they were lucky to be down just a goal at the end of the first half as a second goal would have left them in a bigger hole to dig out.
With both teams sharing the same amount of possession and both taking an equal number of shots on goal, it was anyone's guess what would happen in the second half.
The United States started the second half like they did in the first on the attack and it looked like the team would even the score in the 55th minute.
Johnson making another run down the right wing put in a wonderful ball into the box that beat Beto and landed at the feet of midfielder Bradley. The Toronto FC man, who was looking to do better after his previous performance, had a great chance as the goalkeeper was out of position, but his shot was stopped and cleared off the line by Ricardo Costa.
There is no doubt the Americans, especially Bradley, rued such a great opportunity - and U.S. fans will certainly remember it if the team unfortunately fails to come out of the group in their final game against Germany.
Despite being let down by that chance, the United States had reason to celebrate later on when in the 64th minute Jermaine Jones scored one of the best goals of the World Cup.
A Zusi corner was cleared out to Jones who decided to throw (or kick) caution to the wind and blasted a curling shot from outside the box that sailed past a rooted Beto and ended up in Portugal's goal.
The scored was now level at 1-1 and the momentum was definitely in the hands of the Americans.
Portugal looked to turn up the tempo and went in to all-out attack mode. However, the United States did well to handle the attacks the opposition attempted. They will certainly thank Howard, who once again saved the U.S., when he stopped a sure goal from midfielder Raul Meireless.
As the heat began to take its toll, Klinsmann decided to make his first substitution by bringing in surprise World Cup call up DeAndre Yedlin for a tired Bedoya. It seemed that with a tiring Portuguese side struggling to keep up with the Americans, speed was going to be the friend of the U.S.
And in the 81st minute it was Yedlin's speed and dangerous cross from the right that got Portugal into trouble. With the ball in the box Zusi found a wide open Dempsey who somehow guided the ball into the goal with his midsection.
The United States now ahead 2-1 and it appeared that the game was over.
Portugal's appeal for an offside call were rejected as replays showed that Dempsey was good and Yedlin was clearly not involved in the play.
The United States did fairly well trying to hold up the ball, but one can question why the referee decided to add five minutes of stoppage time to the game.
An obviously exhausted U.S. team, who was on the attack a majority of the time, was on the verge of walking away from the game with another big win until the reigning World Player of the Year decided to show up.
Portugal captain Cristiano Ronaldo, who had another sub-par game, showed a glimpse of magic in the final seconds of stoppage time when a cross from the right found the head of a streaking Silvestre Varela, who got past a bemused Cameron.
Portugal tied the game 2-2 and all of the cheering and celebrating by the American Outlaws in attendance was quickly evaporated.
An exhilarating and energy-consuming game, but the United States has nothing to be ashamed about as things like this happen in soccer. Group G is certainly living up to its billing as the "Group of Death."
Howard put it best when he said afterwards, "The game is cruel."
Overall, the team played much better compared with their performance against Ghana. They did well holding on to the ball and the midfield was able to string together some passes. Attack-wise the Americans looked good and did well to pressure Portugal's backline. However, a different story could be talked about if Bradley was able to bury that goal in the 55th minute. He can also be blamed for giving up the ball which led to the Portugal's second goal.
The U.S. defense did its best, but Klinsmann will certainly want to talk about the two miscues by Cameron that led to Portugal's goals. However, kudos must be given as they kept Ronaldo quiet for a majority of the game. Despite the Real Madrid man supplying the cross that got his team the game-tying goal, he played rather poorly as evidenced by the laughable free kick he took in the first half and the horrific shot in the second.
The United States' spot in the knockout stage is not guaranteed yet as they have to play against Germany on June 26 in Recife. The boys may feel dejected right now, but that will pass as they know the job is not done.
Either a tie with the Germans, or depending on the result from Portugal's game with Ghana in Brasilia, will ensure the United States passage to the next round.
While this game was a rather deflating experience, the United States is on the cusp of accomplishing something many would have thought to be impossible - surviving the "Group of Death."