The entire nation – the one that mostly trashes soccer 47 out of every 48 months – covered in the colors of our star-spangled banner, stood still, mouth agape, as Portuguese substitute Varela netted the latest regulation goal in World Cup history.
A match for the ages could not have ended any other way. For 95 minutes, Jürgen Klinsmann’s squad worked nearly flawlessly to keep men behind the ball and shut down Portugal’s lightning-quick attack. That all ended with a careless turnover from “General” Michael Bradley, Cristiano Ronaldo finally finding space and unleashing a beautiful cross, and a poorly marked Varela heading the Brazuca past Tim Howard. Devastating.
Yes, Bradley could have done better with the ball in acres of space. Yes, Omar Gonzalez came on precisely to stop aerial attacks. Yes, the defense could have been playing a higher line to play Varela offside.
In reality, people are only dwelling on this goal because it came last. There were three other goals that were just as remarkable and just as important in deciding the fate of our beloved United States Men’s National Team.
The performance tonight was, for the most part, outstanding. From day one on the job, Klinsmann has stressed that his side will control the ball and take it to opponents. It always sounded great, but it was never something I could really believe the USMNT could do against quality opponents – until tonight. Yes, Portugal were content with an early lead to let the US have a share of the ball, but the ability of Bradley and Co. to lead a potent attack while almost universally stopping Portugal’s chance at a counter was remarkable.
The United States were the better team tonight, and we should be proud of that fact.
Jermaine Jones was once again my man of the match. In both matches, he has been a force in the midfield on both sides of the ball. I (and just about everyone who follows the team closely) have criticized him a good amount over the last few years for being reckless and foolish, but he has been pure class in Brazil – not to mention his stunning equalizer tonight.
I can’t believe I even need to address this, but some people have mentioned that Michael Bradley should be benched. That is an absurd overreaction to his turnover on the final goal – which involved other mistakes and was, quite simply, a great goal from Portugal. Bradley has been the United States’ most essential player for four years. The entire team runs through him. If you are asking to bench him because he has had two sub-par games by his standards – I don’t want to sound too mean, but this is true – you are proving that you do not know what you are talking about. It’s not happening.
I expressed doubts earlier in the week about the idea of playing Clint Dempsey alone up top, but he had a spectacular match, particularly in the first half and of course in his legendary pelvic-thrust goal. The addition of Graham Zusi in the midfield undoubtedly made an impact. Zusi was great going forward, and adding another midfielder who could stay home allowed for the fullbacks to get forward much more than they could against Ghana. Klinsmann said after the match that Jozy Altidore could play against Germany, but I expect this exact same eleven to start on Thursday.
Speaking of Thursday, a quick rundown of what needs to happen:
2) Loss + POR/GHA draw
3) Loss + POR win, with fewer than 5 goals made up between the two results
4) Loss + GHA win, with fewer than 2 goals made up between the two results
Giving up that goal was crushing, but we should feel encouraged by the USMNT’s strong performance against a top team as well as the likelihood of their advancing to the Round of 16. See you on Thursday.