USA vs. Germany: 6 Things We Learned as Americans Narrowly Advance
"Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains," said Ebby Calvin "Nuke" Laloosh in the American baseball movie Bull Durham.
The Tao of Laloosh fit the hours leading up to the most recent "most important match in American soccer history" against Germany in Recife at the World Cup. A match where both sides would be served by a sterile draw was defined mostly by the conditions it would be played in.
The Twitter timeline of the BBC's Ben Smith carried remarkable images of rain-ravaged Recife. "Torrential rain in Recife. Streets like rivers," Smith wrote.
FIFA never so much as flinched with reference to whether the match would be played—and it was.
Here are six things we learned from USA 0-1 Germany.
Jurgen Klinsmann Was as Bold as Ever with His XI
Geoff Cameron is one of the United States' most experienced and skilled defenders. Alejandro Bedoya started for the Americans against Portugal in a match where the Americans were seconds from securing a berth in the round of 16.
Neither player started for the Americans against Germany.
Lightly regarded Brad Davis took Bedoya's place in the XI, which would have been a fairly significant story had that been the only notable change by American head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
But Klinsmann's decision to put Omar Gonzalez out against the Germans and to bench Cameron was the bold-type move.
Cameron had a very poor match against Portugal and was arguably to blame for the second Portuguese goal that (temporarily) cost the Americans passage into the knockout round.
Whether Klinsmann was punishing Cameron for that mistake or just giving a tired player a blow, we'll never know. Cameron's absence was a real surprise, though.
Give Klinsmann this: While Davis was a non-factor, Gonzalez played very well for the Americans, particularly in the first half when the pitch seemed tilted toward the Germans.
Germany Was Having None of the Idea of an Agreed Tie
Much was made of the possibility that Germany and the United States would play a boring, toothless draw in Recife.
Both teams would be guaranteed advancement to the round of 16 with a point, and the Germans would have first place in Group G sewn up as well.
But the Germans knew something else: The surest way to guarantee their advancement was to win the match and not leave themselves vulnerable to a late goal or some other unforeseeable misfortune.
That was a mindset Germany took, as coach Joachim Low noted after the match, per Fifa.com: "We were well organised today and dominated the match. We didn’t let USA have a chance on our goal right up to the final whistle."
After 10 minutes, the Germans had held the ball for more than 85 percent of the time. They did not put a shot on goal in that time, but they had the Americans positively hemmed into their penalty area.
Only forward Clint Dempsey was ahead of the ball for the Americans, who clearly knew how lethal the Germans could be on attack.
Early on, at least, it felt like the Americans were a significantly outmanned group for whom a draw would be a real accomplishment.
The Whistle for Half-Time Could Not Come Soon Enough for the Americans
Not to say that the Americans played badly in the first half against Germany. They didn't. The Germans left the pitch goalless, a first-half result which Klinsmann would almost surely have taken before the opening kick.
But Klinsmann could not have been happy with the lopsided possession advantage Germany enjoyed, and the chances Germany created (most notably Mesut Ozil's strike in the 35th minute) were unsettling.
The scoreless line at the half, absent context, might have appeared to a disinterested observer that the sides were, in fact, walking the ball around the pitch aimlessly with a draw in mind. Don't you believe it.
Germany probably felt hard done by at the break, having held the ball for more than 60 percent of the match and having put three shots on Tim Howard's goal but coming up empty on the scoreboard.
Conversely, the Americans were surely quite pleased with the developments through 45 minutes, particularly with Portugal ahead of Ghana by a lone goal at the same time. Neither Portugal nor Ghana appeared likely to catch the Americans with Portugal leading a low-scoring match.
Germany Again Looked for an Early Knockout with Their Substitution at the Half
German coach Joachim Low did not disguise his intent with his half-time substitution. He doubtless believed that the match was there to be won—and won quickly.
So Low took Lukas Podolski off and brought dangerous forward Miroslav Klose on. Within seven minutes, Klose nodded a header toward Howard's goal; within 10 minutes, Thomas Muller had fired home the game's first goal from a long rebound after Howard had made a fine save from a Per Mertesacker header.
In the same time interval that Germany took the lead, Ghana drew level with Portugal, and American supporters suddenly had a new guillotine blade to steer clear of. A 2-1 win for Ghana combined with a 1-0 loss to Germany would put the Black Stars through.
Suddenly, the Americans needed great defense from Portugal as much as (perhaps more than) than an increasingly unlikely result against the Germans.
Regardless, Klose's introduction changed the match palpably. Merely threatening in the first 45 minutes, the Germans were positively terrifying with Klose on the pitch.
Watching Two Scoreboards at Once Is Nerve-Wracking
Imagine being an American player in the middle of the second half of their match against Germany.
The Germans already led by one, and the Americans could ill afford to concede a second goal to the Germans (further damaging the Americans' goal difference). The Germans were certainly more than capable of opening the Americans up again.
But if the Americans played too conservatively, "protecting" a one-goal deficit, they could well end up rueing their passive play if Ghana went on to beat Portugal and put the Americans out of the tournament on total goals scored.
The best thing the Americans could do for themselves would be to score a goal, but every time the Americans poured players forward, the Germans looked especially likely to poach a goal on the counter-attack.
Not until Ballon d'Or holder Cristiano Ronaldo put Portugal ahead of Ghana in the 80th minute could anyone rooting for the red, white and blue think about relaxing for a moment.
As Iver Galercep wrote on Twitter: "The Portugal-Ghana score just went up on the scoreboard in Recife and the USA fans are going NUTS!! Party time!!"
That surely went double for the players wearing the red, white and blue.
Even a Loss Is Good Enough Under the Right Circumstances
World football pundits took great pleasure in the Americans' at-the-death draw with Portugal. "Now you know how football fans feel all the time," was the refrain.
Arguably, though, what American football fans survived watching the Americans lose to Germany while nervously praying for Portugal not to lose to Ghana is an even more appropriate baptism for American fans of world football.
So often in this sport, the things that happen to the side you support are only somewhat within their own control. Yes, the Americans could have taken care of business by drawing with Germany or even beating them.
But the Germans are demonstrably better than the Americans. This much was known before the World Cup started, and it is known empirically now.
In the final analysis, then, what saved the Americans' berth in the knockout round was a match that happened 1,000 miles away.
Now that they are in the knockout stages, how far can USA go? Belgium are up next, a Belgium side who came into the tournament with a tall reputation.
Marc Wilmots’ side topped Group H with a 100 per cent record, but that did not tell the whole story. Belgium were workmanlike rather than impressive so should hold no terrors for USA.
If Klinsmann’s side can find the right attacking blend, they could easily pull off the shock.
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