The U.S. men’s national team went into its Sunday match against Portugal in a position to advance to the Round of 16 with a win. This was arguably one of the biggest games in U.S. soccer history. The U.S. lineup featured a change of formation, as Jozy Altidore was unavailable due to a hamstring injury. Graham Zusi entered as an extra midfielder to clog up the middle and to try and keep Portuguese captain Cristiano Ronaldo at bay.
A double blunder gave Portugal its first goal of the 2014 World Cup. A terrible cross by Portugal’s Miguel Veloso looked to be a simple clearance by defender Geoff Cameron, but it went from a simple clearance to a horrible mistake, as Cameron unfortunately sliced it right to Nani. Nani made U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard go down early with a stutter step that opened up more of the net, after which Nani made no mistake. Portugal was up 1-0 within the first five minutes of the match.
Besides the awful start, the U.S. played well. Chances were created, and Ronaldo was mostly quiet. One chance of note for the Americans was a rocket of a left-footed shot by Fabian Johnson that was just wide of the post. Captain Clint Dempsey had what was probably the U.S.’s best chance to equalize in the first, but the angle to shoot at goal was narrow, and Portuguese keeper Beto was up for making the save. The official signaled for halftime, and both teams went into the locker room with Portugal up 1-0.
The U.S. started the second half strong and could have scored when Michael Bradley was in front of an open net with the ball at his feet. Beto came out to close down Dempsey and Dempsey found Bradley, but Bradley’s shot was hit right at defender Ricardo Costa’s kneecap; the score remained 1-0.
It took a bit of magic from an unlikely source to pull the Americans level. The United States had a corner kick, and while the set piece itself was not accurate, the ball was headed out to Jermaine Jones. Jones made a quick move to get into some space and unleashed a curling shot that gave Beto no chance — that shot tied the match at 1-1. The U.S. had renewed belief that the win was there for the taking.
Late in the second half, coach Jurgen Klinsmann put on DeAndre Yedlin, and he had a big impact on the U.S. scoring its second goal of the night. Yedlin sent in the pass that led to the ball being deflected, and it found its way to Zusi, who put in a left-footed cross to Dempsey. Dempsey put the ball in the net with his stomach, thus putting the U.S. up 2-1 with 10 minutes to go. The Americans were on course to qualify for the Round of 16 with one group match left for the first time in U.S. history.
But Dempsey’s goal wasn’t the last one scored that night. The referee added five minutes of stoppage time, and four minutes into stoppage time, the U.S. was looking good. The ball was on the opposite side of the field and in the corner. Portugal had a throw-in, and the U.S. defended the long ball.
But it started to unravel after that. Bradley tried to trap the ball, but his first touch let him down, and had to chase the ball a bit further. This put him close to Portugal’s Eder, who won the ball from Bradley and immediately passed it to Nani. Nani found Ronaldo out wide on the right, and the reigning world player of the year put in a perfect-looking cross. That cross found the substitute Varela to make the match 2-2.
Varela beat both Johnson and Cameron to the ball. It was a soft goal to allow, given the circumstances surrounding the match. Bradley losing the ball, Beasley not closing down on Ronaldo tight enough, and Varela out-hustling two defenders was the perfect storm of mistakes that leaves the U.S. now needing a result against Germany to guarantee its chances of advancing to the Round of 16.
There are other scenarios that can play out if the U.S. loses, but the Americans would be wise to try to play against the Germans instead of sitting back and bunkering around the penalty area. It will be a tough match, but it is still in the U.S.’s hands to advance.