Seconds from victory, U.S. is undone by immature moment.
By Robert Wagman
(Sunday, June 22, 2014) -- The United States men came within seconds of an amazing comeback victory that would have sent them through to the FIFA World Cup Round of 16, but they gave up a last-gasp goal five minutes into stoppage time and had to settle for a 2-2 drew with Portugal in front of 40,123 at Arena Amazonia in Manaus, Brazil.
With a victory or a tie in its Group G finale Thursday against Germany (1-0-1, 4 points), the U.S. (1-0-1, 4) will advance to the knockout round. The Americans can still move to the next round with a loss, depending on the results of the simultaneous game between Ghana (0-1-1, 1) and Portugal (0-1-1, 1). If Ghana and Portugal tie, the U.S. will advance regardless of its own result.
“When you (concede) a goal in the last second of the game, when you would’ve been on six points, then it’s a bummer for a moment that you have to swallow, but I think it was an outstanding game with all the players” U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann said.
A miskick by defender U.S. defender Geoff Cameron went to Portugal striker Nani for an easy goal and a 1-0 lead in the fifth minute but, for the next 85 minutes-plus, the Americans played their best soccer. Defensive midfielder Jermaine Jones unleashed a 27-yard blast into the right side of the net to tie the score and lone forward Clint Dempsey used his midsection to direct midfielder Graham Zusi’s left-side cross for a 2-1 advantage 17 minutes later.
On what amounted to the last play of the match in the 95th minute, Portugal earned the 2-2 draw after U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley gave away possession in the middle of the field. The ball went to Portugal superstar striker Cristiano Ronaldo on the right side and he sent a perfect cross to the left side of the penalty area. Reserve midfielder Silvestre Varela, in the midst, but unmarked, by three Americans, drove a powerful header into the right side of the net for the equalizer on the game’s last play.
The U.S. recovered from its early mistake to turn a deficit into lead, but showed a lack of maturity in the dying minutes. On the closing sequence, the U.S. had the ball in the Portugal end, but when Bradley gave it up, five U.S. midfielders and defenders were caught upfield. After the long match in stifling heat and humidity, the Americans couldn’t find the pace to defend Portugal’s last gasp. That allowed Ronaldo to run free and for Varela to deliver his winner without interference.
U.S. coach Klinsmann made only one change from 11 who started against Ghana in the opening 2-1 triumph. He replaced striker Jozy Altidore, down with an injured hamstring, with midfielder Graham Zusi, pushing Dempsey into the lone forward’s role. At times, Dempsey played as another midfielder, giving the Americans six in the middle to jam things up. At other times, he worked on top in a more traditional striker’s role.
The Zusi start was expected, but Klinsmann’s substitutions were less so. In the 72nd minute, he brought on young 20-year-old DeAndre Yedlin in the midfield and for first World Cup appearance and the youngster did well, using his speed against a tiring Portuguese side.
A few minutes later, Klinsmann summoned Chris Wondolowski to replace Dempsey, who was exhausted. Wondolowski added little to the U.S. defense at the end, the same as it was defender Omar Gonzalez, who came on in the dying minutes, but was absent on the tying goal.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 7: Made an amazing save before half. After a Nani drilled a drive past him off the right post, he from his knees, directed Eder’s rebound blast over the crossbar. Might have done more on Portugal’s first goal, but could not be blamed for the tying tally. He kept the U.S. in the match on several occasions.
Defender DaMarcus Beasley - 5.5: His role tonight was mainly offensive. He repeatedly pushed upfield where he used his pace to advantage, but at the end, he did not step up on Ronaldo to prevent the winning cross.
Defender Matt Besler - 6.5: Coming off a hamstring strain that saw him go out at halftime against Ghana, he bounced back to have a fine game. As a central defender, he was lost on Varela’s decisive strike, but otherwise he played well. With the two outside back pushing frequently forward, he roamed from side to side making plays.
Defender Geoff Cameron - 4.5: Helped Americans into early deficit when his attempted clear went to his left for Nani’s easy goal. He was one of several U.S. players caught upfield at the end and was slow to get back.
Defender Fabian Johnson - 6: Playing well forward most of the night and he helped provide much of the U.S. attack, but he was among those who got caught at the end, not in position to stop the final goal.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 6: He was much better than against Ghana, but he lost the ball that ended in the U.S. net in the dying moments. He had a golden chance to equalize the game when Johnson cut a ball back to him, but Ricardo Costa came up with a goal-line clearance for Portugal. Overall, he had a good game.
Midfielder Jermaine Jones - 7.5: Had another super match. Made countless defensive stops, brought the U.S. level with a long-range goal and even the yellow card he took was for a professional foul that broke up a Portuguese break.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman - 6: With the outside backs pushing up, he often provided cover in back. Did well both there and in the midfield.
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya - 4.5: He had little impact on the match. He made a few good defensive plays, but was absent from the offense.
Midfielder Graham Zusi - 6: His corner kicks were usually good, but he did waste several. His pass to Dempsey set up the second U.S. goal..
Forward Clint Dempsey - 6: In the right place at the right time for the second U.S. goal. Generally, he played a fine match as the lone striker, getting several chances.
Defender/midfielder DeAndre Yedlin (72nd minute for Bodoya) - 6: He did not seemed awed by his first World Cup exposure. He was brought on for his speed which he used well against a tired opponent.
Forward Chris Wondolowski (77th minute for Dempsey) - 5: He had almost no impact on the match.
Defender Omar Gonzalez (90th minute for Zusi) – no rating: His whole purpose for coming on was to bolster the last line of defense for a minute or two, but he was absent on the Portuguese goal.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Jermaine Jones.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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