The Odds May Favor the USMNT, but Work Still Needs to Be Done
The USMNT's game against Portugal encapsulated what I constantly tell my American, non-soccer loving friends: soccer is so much more than a low scoring European game that always ends in a tie. It's about nationalism. It's about heart, and overcoming the odds. It's also about anguish - it's about getting your heart pulled out and thrown on the floor with mere seconds left.
While you may not want to relive the game as an American just yet, let’s go back to the fifth minute. A scuffed clear attempt from Geoff Cameron left the USMNT down 1-0 early. It wasn't the ideal start for a team looking to play a defensive, slow-paced game.
At that moment, we expected the game to go very poorly. An American team that planned to crowd the box and double up on Cristiano Ronaldo had to take more chances. That would inevitably lead to more counterattacks from the speedy CR7 and Nani, opening things up even more. But something strange happened. The U.S. started to play a beautiful, attacking, controlled game. They dominated and were aesthetically pleasing. Fabian Johnson was a sight to be seen running down the wings. Clint Dempsey was his usual active self. Jermaine Jones consistently won tackles and sprayed the ball around. And Tim Howard was, as Landon Donovan put it, “the goalie of the tournament.”
The best way to describe the action after that first goal was simply "fun". It was just darn good fun watching them.
The joy was punctuated by a beauty from Jones in the 64th minute, giving us another thing that makes soccer the best sport in the world. Paintings are art. Music is art. Comedy is art. That goal from Jones? That was art, too.
Then came the breakthrough. It seemed fitting that Dempsey chested the ball into the goal for the U.S.'s second score. It was almost the opposite of Jones’ goal, and it sure wasn’t pretty. But it got the job done, just like Clint Dempsey does. (Maybe America, too, if you want me to speak in hyperboles.)
"We did it! We advanced from the Group of Death in just two games!" Well, all of us knew there was a long way to go. My beautiful wife is fond of saying at times like these, “I wish I can just fast forward to the end so I don’t have to sit through the anxiety.” This time, I agreed 100%. I just wanted it to end. But also for it to go on even longer if that made sense. Because the anxiety is what was making it fun.
We all know what happened next. I’m not going to blame any American player for what happened, though it wouldn't be tough to. Instead, I'll praise Ronaldo for a perfect cross. That's the kind of thing a superstar does when his team needs him.
The result was a draw, but it felt like a loss. Before the game, I gladly would have taken a draw. After it, I was despondent. That tends to happen in soccer a lot.
The USMT faces off against Germany on Thursday. Both teams need a draw to advance. Team USA’s chances of advancing now stand at 80.03%, well higher than they were a couple of weeks ago. Our Game Simulator sees the game ending with a Germany win of 2.34 to 1.23, and the contest has a 20.71% chance of ending in a draw. Odds are, Germany will take this one, and the United States may need help from the Ghana – Portugal game to go through to the Knockout Stage. But don’t discount the fact that, if this game is tied in the 80th minute, both teams won’t just shut up shop and move on to the next round. It’s happened before.