Manchester City had control of their own destiny in the Guinness International Champions Cup and let it slip away. Which, if we are being truthful, might be for the best.
City led Liverpool 2-1 at Yankee Stadium with six minutes of regulation time left. Raheem Sterling's 85th-minute strike leveled the match and Liverpool proceeded to win on penalty kicks.
Having watched the match in person, there is no question in my mind that City tried their best to win it. Aside from having the late lead, City hit the crossbar and had a goal ruled out for offside.
For that matter, Liverpool also lost a goal to the offside flag and City goalkeeper Joe Hart made a handful of one-on-one saves that kept City in the match. The Reds prevailed on merit.
Liverpool's victory gave them five points in Group B to City's four. City can therefore only win Group B and qualify for the Cup's final with a victory over Olympiacos and help from AC Milan against Liverpool.
It is quite unlikely the Cup's schedulers presaged these standings heading into the last of the group stage matches in Group B, but these standings set up a fascinating choice for City boss Manuel Pellegrini.
City and Liverpool both play on Aug. 2, but City's match will end before Liverpool kick off against AC Milan.
Note that AC Milan are in abject disarray in this tournament, having conceded a mind-blowing eight goals in two matches, while scoring only once. Not surprisingly, AC Milan are out of contention in this tournament and have little or nothing to play for.
Pellegrini surely understands, then, that even if City beat Olympiacos the most likely outcome in Liverpool's match with AC Milan is a victory that puts the Reds in the Cup final at City's expense.
Knowing that, and knowing that should Liverpool advance they must then travel to Miami for the Cup final two days later on Aug. 4, exactly how hard should City try to win this match with Olympiacos? In my professional opinion, the answer to that question is "not very hard."
Not to say that the players Pellegrini selects should lay down or play to lose. Injuries happen at half-speed as or more often than they do at full speed and professional athletes cannot reasonably be asked to lose on purpose because they are always measured on their own individual performances.
What Pellegrini might do, though, is send out an XI in Minneapolis (which is not New York City or even Pittsburgh as a sports town) that, you know, sort of underwhelms.
City have accomplished most of what they came to the United States to do. They roughed up Sporting Kansas City and AC Milan, and they were just minutes away from beating Liverpool in regulation time. With the calendar turned to August, City should now lock in on the beginning of their league season.
So it is fine if City beat Olympiacos, which even an XI of City's reserves is capable of doing. But this needs to be a low-risk friendly, especially with the Cup all but lost.
Manchester City's predicted XI against Olympiacos: Willy Caballero; Micah Richards, Dedryck Boyata, Matija Nastasic, Gael Clichy; James Milner, Fernando, Javi Garcia, Bruno Zuculini, Jesus Navas; Kelechi Iheanacho.