We were so damn close… Everything was perfect. And then it wasn’t. Since the fifth minute, nearly everything had gone the Americans’ way. Jürgen Klinsmann made all the right substitutions, and I have to say, his tactics were just about spot on. But then Ronaldo sent in the perfect ball. And all of it seems for naught. That was a match we’ll all remember. But let’s hope we can remember the middle 88 minutes and not the last kick. Thursday will be the death of us all.
The talk going into this match centered on two things – replacing Jozy Altidore and stopping Cristiano Ronaldo. I was skeptical when I saw Klinsmann’s lineup, but Clint Dempsey played superbly up top in the first half, intelligently making runs behind Portugal’s high line. Even without the extra forward, chances were still created. And with the added man in midfield, Ronaldo had little space to operate, with somebody sent at him anytime Portugal looked to be on the break. Even when Ronaldo got a half-chance, he was noticeably off tonight, sending his efforts either above the bar or well wide. That is until the last one.
My man of the match was Jermaine Jones. In the first half, he and Bradley got forward well, and played a lot of intelligent balls. But when Jones ventured forward, he always made sure he had the cover behind him. Defensively, he was excellent at times, with a plethora of vital tackles. In the closing minutes, he blocked a couple of shots well. Even when he gave the ball away, he was quick to earn it back. He also scored an absolute beauty to tie the game, connecting on a curling long-range effort that will be a candidate for goal of the tournament. The goal was well-deserved for Jones, who put in a quality shift.
There were a number of other impressive players in this match for the United States, something you can’t say about many Portuguese players. Matt Besler had an outstanding game in the back, surely his best in a USA shirt. Fabian Johnson too was excellent for much of the game down the right. That Portugal ended up with two goals should not cloud how good the U.S. were defensively, as many players put in impressively disciplined performances. Tim Howard didn’t have his best game, but his save of Eder’s rebounded effort late in the first half was incredible. Not many humans possess the balance necessary to stay on their feet long enough to tip the ball away like Howard did.
In addition to getting everything right tactically, Klinsmann made the right substitutions. DeAndre Yedlin made an outstanding cameo, which not many would have expected. His decision to bring in Chris Wondolowski late on was also excellent, as Wondolowski’s veteran decision to bring the ball to the corner was in stark contrast to Bradley’s play at the end of the Ghana game. Omar Gonzalez might have been better positioned on Varela’s goal, but he was the obvious man to bring in at the end too.
But after all that, Cristiano Ronaldo had just a little too much space and sent in the perfect ball for Varela’s equalizer. At that point, all you can do is tip your cap, and take the positives from this match. As close as the Americans were to qualifying for the next round, they cannot let themselves have a let down with the all-important game against Germany coming up after only three days of rest. They must regroup, treat injuries and keep their heads up. They were the better team tonight and they need to know that.
Germany is good, but the U.S. can’t be intimated. Sitting back and hoping for a point won’t work against the Germans. They have too much talent. The Americans shouldn’t be afraid to attack, knowing that even a close defeat could be all that is needed in that match. Klinsmann’s biggest task before Thursday might be getting his players’ minds ready once again.
I still don’t really know what to feel. You can’t fault the Americans for how they played. The showed the American spirit we all love them these players for, and were the better team today. But damn, that was disappointing in the end. At least we got a point. From 1-0 down at half, a point is still a good result against one of the best teams in the world.
What are your thoughts on the match? Are we going to be able to recover from the disappointment? Comment below.