Only seconds from clinching a spot in the round of 16 at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, the United States defense faltered, allowing a late goal from Portugal. The draw would force the men in Red, White, and Blue to gain a result versus Germany on Thursday.
On a scorching hot night in the Amazon jungle, the U.S. Men’s National Team played an excellent night of soccer versus one of the world’s top sides. A world-class Portugal was outplayed, outcoached, and outhustled by the U.S. all night long, but that didn’t matter as the match still ended in a 2-2 draw.
Almost opposite of the first game against Ghana, the U.S. came out flat, and it showed. In the fifth minute of play, on an attempt to clear the ball, American defender Geoff Cameron whiffed at the ball, sending it straight to the feet of Nani. With only Tim Howard to beat, Nani powered the ball into the upper back of the net to give Portugal the 1-0 lead. It was not the way Jurgen Klinsmann had planned for the night to begin.
For much of the first half, Portugal and the United States exchanged counterattacks. In a game full of overlapping runs from the U.S. full backs Fabian Johnson and DeMarcus Beasley, and lobs to Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, the pace was quite rapid. One of the new features of the Brazil World Cup was used tonight, and that was a water break. Both teams looked exhausted in the 39th minute when the official called for a break. With temperatures reaching close to 90 degrees plus incredible humidity, both teams alike enjoyed the quick break in play.
When play began in the second half, the game became much more possession- based for Portugal. With a 1-0 lead, there was no need to chase after the game for a second goal. Even while playing possession soccer, the U.S. still managed to keep their foot on the gas. Playing out of a 4-5-1 formation due to the injury to striker Jozy Altidore, the U.S. midfield pressed back against Portugal forcing multiple turnovers, which lead to shots and attempts for the Americans.
It wasn’t until the 64th minute of play that the U.S. got on the board. After a cross to the box was deflected out, German-American Jermaine Jones got possession just outside the left side of the box. After driving towards center, Jones ripped a monster with his right foot, bending it past a Portuguese defender and into the corner of the net. It was an excellent shot by Jones, who switched his allegiance to the United States just before the 2010 World Cup, but missed the tournament due to a broken leg. It was the moment he had been waiting for his entire career and it surely will be a memorable one.
After the Jones goal, Portugal began to step up their attacks in hopes of again claiming the lead, and keeping their World Cup dreams alive. With so much speed on the pitch for Portugal, Jurgen Klinsmann introduced another of his controversial roster selections to the field. DeAndre Yedlin entered the game for Alejandro Bedoya, who put in 72 minutes of hard work down the right midfield. Yedlin, 20, was thought to be selected by most in the soccer community based solely on his pure speed. It was his speed that helped put the U.S. ahead in the 81st minute.
Running down the left side of the pitch, Yedlin took the ball all the way down to the touchline, where he crossed it in. After the initial touch was deflected out, Graham Zusi, crossed it back in from the left side, finding captain Clint Dempsey for the goal.
With the American Outlaws across the country going crazy and holding their breath, Portugal stuck a dagger into the United States with only seconds to spare. After a poor pass from Michael Bradley, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, who up to this point had had a difficult night, delivered in a perfect cross. Even with five defenders on the field, plus Yedlin at right mid, and two defensive midfielders, Ronaldo found the space and hit substitute Silvestre Varela. U.S. keeper Tim Howard had no chance, as the U.S. defense had fallen asleep so close to clinching their spot in the final 16.
Now the Yanks head back to Sao Paulo on a short four-day recovery time frame. With four points, the United States is tied with Germany for first in the group, only behind on goal differential. For both the U.S. and Germany, a draw will put them through into the knockout rounds. With those two facing off on Thursday, it will be interesting to see if both teams aggressively seek victory, or will they sit back and accept their current positions to advance.