U.S. Soccer Shocked as Great World Cup Win Becomes Sickening Draw

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U.S. Soccer Shocked as Great World Cup Win Becomes Sickening Draw
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"Sickening."

That's how Taylor Twellman and Ian Darke of ESPN described how the United States had three points ripped away in the fifth minute of stoppage time by Portugal and settled for a 2-2 draw in the humid desert city of Manaus on Sunday.

For 94 minutes and 45 seconds the United States outplayed, out-thought and outworked Portugal. It looked like the Americans had outscored their opponent, too.

Jurgen Klinsmann called it unfortunate. Michael Bradley said it was a disappointment that they didn't finish the job.

"That's soccer," Bradley told ESPN's Jeremy Schaap after the match. "It can be a cruel game sometimes."

Cruel? You could say that. For 94 minutes and 45 seconds, the Americans held the most dangerous player on the planet in Cristiano Ronaldo in check.

To fight back after a horrible early goal and not only tie the match but get what seemed like—what had to be—a game-winner by Clint Dempsey in the 81st minute only to give up a goal just before the final whistle when all they had to do was hold on to it for 15 more seconds?

Yes, that's cruel.

Martin Mejia/Associated Press

Fifteen more seconds. That's what was left between the United States securing advancement in the World Cup to the knockout round before even having to face Germany. Who would have thought that a week ago?

Sickening. Cruel. Unfortunate. Whatever word you want to use to describe this knot caught in your stomach right now, nobody in the entire world can blame you.

In a World Cup that has featured 94 goals scored through the first 32 matches, there wasn't one more dramatic than that. Portugal, playing for its tournament life, managed to find fortune when Bradley lost the ball with half a minute to go in what would have been the best comeback victory in the last 60 years for U.S. soccer.

Portugal was able to capitalize, getting the ball to Ronaldo as the seconds ticked away. The best counter-attacking player on the planet, as he's been called time and time again this week, had one last counter, one last attack. And rather than rip the ball at Tim Howard and hope for the best, it was Ronaldo who provided service for the game-tying goal from Silvestre Varela.

Geoff Cameron—whose first-half howler of a clearance put the USMNT behind early—was unable to stay with the only attacking option Portugal seemed to have in the box. Varela did the rest, saving Portugal's World Cup chances and leaving all of America with that same sickening, cruel, unfortunate feeling.

And it was all of those things, truly. You could see the play building up after Bradley's gaffe, hoping somehow the cross would be struck poorly or headed over the bar. As that knot tightened, you could feel the joy depleting, looking for an offside flag that never came.

Mario Tama/Getty Images

It's okay to feel sick after a match like that. This is the same feeling I remember having after Ghana's Asamoah Gyan torched the U.S. defense in extra time in 2010. The only difference between that goal and this goal is that the United States is far from eliminated from the World Cup this time.

But the Yanks aren't through to the next round either, and another measly 15 seconds would have secured that.

It is, as our collective guts work to become unwrenched in the wake of this match, important to keep in mind that not all was lost against Portugal. In fact, nothing was lost.

If there were ever such a thing as a bad draw, this was it. But it was not a loss. The United States did earn one point against Portugal and sit on four points heading into the match against Germany.

"Obviously we are disappointed," Clint Dempsey told Schaap after the match on ESPN's post-match coverage. "But at the end of the day you've got to look at the positives. We got a point, we're on four points now. It's going to go down to the last game and hopefully we get the job done."

Klinsmann was similarly positive in his comments to Schaap.

It's unfortunate. It was an amazing game. An amazing performance from our guys; nothing more you can ask for. We just go at it the tougher way, so we've got to beat Germany, get a result against Germany and that's what we're going to do.

The shame of it all for Klinsmann is that he managed a nearly flawless match. Without Jozy Altidore in the lineup and facing a makeshift back line for Portugal, Klinsmann was measured in his formation, installing a 4-5-1 with Dempsey up top that allowed both Fabian Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley to terrorize the flanks.

Despite going down early, Klinsmann didn't flinch, keeping his lineup intact after he was rewarded when Jermaine Jones put home the equalizer in the 64th minute off a rocket into the corner of the Portugal net.

In the 72nd minute, Klinsmann put in seldom-used fullback DeAndre Yedlin, who sat above Johnson on the right and helped control the pace of Portugal while tearing down the flanks with pace of his own. Yedlin's driving run off a great service from Jones created the pinball in the box that led to Dempsey's goal.

Themba Hadebe/Associated Press

Klinsmann then put in Chris Wondolowski for a hobbled Dempsey six minutes later to slow down the play, hold possession and secure the win. Into stoppage time, Klinsmann threw on another center back in Omar Gonzalez to help tie up any space in the center of the field for a counter.

Klinsmann did everything—everything—right on Sunday from start to finish, and he was undone by a turnover from his best player in the middle of the field and a horrific marking mistake in the middle of the box with three center backs on the field.

Unbelievable. That's what Klinsmann said to himself on the sidelines, with his hands on his hips, thinking what might have been, and almost was. Truly, sickeningly unbelievable.

A win that should have been a loss against Ghana and now a draw that should have been a win against Portugal. That's the World Cup, and now Klinsmann has to figure out a way to motivate his group again when the U.S. faces Germany on Thursday.

Christopher Lee/Getty Images

We all know the scenarios. The United States advances with a win or draw against Germany. The Yanks can escape with a loss too, if Ghana and Portugal play to a draw or if the winner of that match doesn't make up the United States' current advantage in goal differential.

The Americans are in a good position to advance. But they could have done it on Sunday if not for 15 seconds none of us will ever forget.

 

Follow Dan Levy on Twitter: Follow @DanLevyThinks

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