When the draw came out in December, I don’t think many of us expected to be here at this moment, still standing after the Group of Death had run its course. It was hardly pretty, and not entirely convincing, but the U.S. deserves to be moving on. Who would have thought that the last few minutes of today’s game would have been so comfortable? Once Ronaldo scored to put Portugal in the lead over Ghana, you could almost feel a few million Americans release six months’ worth of built of stress. We did it. We made it out of the Group of Death.
I ended up watching pretty much the whole game at camp today save for the opening couple minutes. While watching with a bunch of fifth graders who knew little about soccer was hardly my preferred scene, at least I was able to watch. Maybe it was because I didn’t have much time to worry about this match, but I was a lot less nervous than I was before the last two. Germany was going to beat us, I knew. And there was nothing we could do beyond hoping that the Portuguese took care of business in their game. But as scared as I was about Ghana yesterday, the recently-announced suspensions of Kevin Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari made me confident this morning.
There wasn’t a whole lot to the game itself. Germany dominated, but they had little reason to push forward for more goals. They look about the most settled side in Brazil right now, completely confident in their own ability. Even their weakness – the four center backs and their lack of pace and width in the back – is a strength on set pieces. With Thomas Müller in such fine goalscoring form, and the rest of the attackers finding their footing, the Germans are my favorite for the title at this point.
Despite the obvious strength of the Germans, the U.S. didn’t look out of place on the same field. A lot of Americans had strong performances today, including standout ones from Tim Howard, Kyle Beckerman and Matt Besler. Along with Jermaine Jones and Fabian Johnson, Besler has been the Americans’ standout performer so far in my eyes. I would really like to see him get a chance to play in Europe soon. Beside him in defense, Omar Gonzalez was solid, as Jürgen Klinsmann played all the right cards once again. His coaching decisions have been terrific I must say.
There are three major worries for this team going forward for me. The obvious one is Michael Bradley. Once again, he looked lost in the final third, acting like a shadow of the player he was in the warm-up games and prior to that. It feels like I’m beating a dead horse, but Bradley needs to be at his best if the U.S. hopes to advance another round. Nobody else on the team is capable of playing the vital number 10 role as well as he can, and his teammates need him to play up to his own high standards. His lack of a first touch was astounding.
The other major worry has to be the team’s fitness. For much of this game today, the Americans looked worn out, beaten by the harsh travel schedule and weather. Getting everybody’s legs back under them before the game against Belgium will be a big task for Klinsmann. And there’s no guarantee Jozy Altidore will be back anytime soon.
The final worry of mine is Graham Zusi’s set pieces. What was supposed to be a strength has turned into a bit of a problem, as aside from his ball to John Brooks in the Ghana games, his corners have been terrible, not being anywhere close to where they need to be. If the U.S. isn’t creating many chances from open play, set pieces must be taken advantage of if we are going to score. Zusi’s balls were certainly not going to produce any goals today.
But we are through to the knockout round and that is all that matters for now. We can focus on Belgium tomorrow. There is life after the Group of Death after all. Thank you, Portugal. Thank you, Kevin Prince Boateng and Sulley Muntari. But more importantly, thank you Jürgen Klinsmann. He is the true American hero from the group stage.
On another note, I think the Luis Suarez suspension is spot on. Four months away from soccer will hopefully teach that man a lesson. It a serious punishment, but also a reasonable one. A lifetime ban would have been incredibly harsh, so at least Liverpool fans can be happy he didn’t get that. But he should have no further place in this World Cup after giving the game of soccer such a bad name. And while Liverpool might feel harshly treated, a lengthy club suspension was also necessary. Let’s all agree that biting people is not okay.
What were your thoughts on all the soccer stories today? Please comment below.