No one said it had to be easy. After a disappointing draw vs. Portugal, the United States were handily beaten by Germany today, despite the score. With only 32% possession and zero shots on goal, it was clearly not the attacking mindset Klinsmann wants to instill in American soccer. Blame fatigue or blame German footballing skill, the USMNT looked comfortably inferior to the mighty Germans most of the match.
And yet, they are moving on. Considering the circumstances, this is incredible. Dropped into the Group of Death (and yes, even hindsight has shown us it was exactly that), the Americans got the four points they needed to advance to the knockout round. After exorcising some demons with a crucial victory over World Cup nemesis Ghana, the tie against Portugal – as painful as it was – ended up the difference, as did Germany’s 4-0 spanking of the Portuguese, which allowed the U.S. to go through on the goal differential tiebreaker. If the Germans had only won 1-0 in that match and every other result was the same, FIFA would have had to break the tie between the U.S. and Portugal by drawing lots. Can you even imagine?
That wasn’t necessary, though. The Americans, like they have the past two World Cups now, did what they needed to do, albeit in a less glamorous way than the stunning Donovan match winner vs. Algeria in 2010. Before the tournament got underway, we knew a win, draw, and loss (in that order) would likely push us through. There was drama and anxious moments, but the USMNT have survived the zombie apocalypse that was the Group of Death. Let’s get to the match.
The first 15 minutes or so had me thinking Germany were out to dominate this match and post more than a couple goals. It’s difficult to remember if the U.S. even touched the ball in the opening minutes. Still, the defense staved off any potential damage and kept the game scoreless. Then, the tide started to shift a bit, with the United States fighting back and controlling things for stretches. A Graham Zusi screamer just over the bar in the 22′ undoubtedly scared the Germans, but may have been the Americans best chance all game. Halftime arrived with U.S. fans mostly optimistic about their team’s chances to take the draw, and (if you #daretodream) maybe even grab the three points.
Then, the second half began and it became apparent that Germany had awoken. Any offensive buildup play the USMNT had going for them in the first half was erased in the second. On the other end, Germany’s link play between their insanely talented midfielders started to reveal German football brilliance. Ten minutes in, Thomas Muller powered in a clinically struck ball (his 9th goal in as many World Cup games, by the way) past Howard, right after the latter had made a wonderful save off a Mertesacker header.
Just minutes later, an Asamoah Gyan goal for Ghana knotted them with Portugal 1-1. This meant that another Ghana goal would force a Portugal or American equalizer for the U.S. to advance. With both matches on in front of me, my eyes began to drift to the Ghana-Portugal game much more. This was not an enjoyable time to be a US Soccer fan. The next 20 minutes featured more German dominance with the United States unable to get anything going offensively.
Finally, relief washed over in the 80th minute of Ghana vs. Portugal from the Ballon d’Or winner, Cristiano Ronaldo, of all people. His goal took the lead for the Portuguese and allowed the USMNT to lose and still advance. Thank you, Cristiano.
In ten years, Ronaldo will be playing for the LA Galaxy and married to a Kardashian, so he kinda owes us.
— Matt Sebek (@MattSebek) June 26, 2014
Three Big Winners
1) Tim Howard – The Everton keeper was immense, having to deal with 13 Germany shots, six on target. Muller’s goal was perfectly slotted inside the right post, so there was nothing he could do about that one. Plus, his save just seconds before was an incredible stop. With an experienced and confident keeper like Howard, you just don’t have to worry about silly mistakes on such a big stage. (*knocks on wood vigorously*)
2) Omar Gonzalez – With just limited World Cup 2014 time under his belt, a fresh Gonzalez started for Geoff Cameron and was magnificent. Stout against dangerous crosses, he also made a few exceptional emergency tackles and clearances. It should be difficult for Klinsmann to decide who starts at centerback on Tuesday.
3) Michael Bradley/Kyle Beckerman – It was difficult to pick just one for the third spot, mostly because this being a loss, no one really stood out. However, for all the criticism Bradley has taken so far this World Cup, I think he has played better than most think. For the third straight match, he was not the midfield wizard we know he can be, but his passing and defensive play has been good enough. Sure, he still had a handful of bad passes and wasn’t able to break the defense open with a mind-blowing ball, but we’re playing national soccer power Germany here, people. Plus, Bradley has run more than any other player at the World Cup so far. Regarding Beckerman, it was another solidly solid performance from everyone’s new favorite American player. You know what you’re getting with Beckerman, and he provided it yet again versus some of the world’s best attacking players.
Do the U.S. play five midfielders and one forward against Belgium?
Obviously, much of this depends on Jozy Altidore’s health, but Clint Dempsey was not much of a factor in the Germany match, so something may need to change. If Altidore can’t go, do we deploy Aron Johannsson next to Dempsey, or does Belgium’s attacking prowess force Klinsmann to play Dempsey alone up top yet again? If he opts for the latter, I would like to see someone like Mix Diskerud get a chance to create some offense, even if it’s just in a substitute role.
Does Klinsmann continue to tinker with the back line?
After playing Gonzalez for 90 minutes today, does Klinsmann decide to insert a rested Cameron back in the starting lineup? What about the fullbacks, DaMarcus Beasley and Fabian Johnson? Both of them have started all three matches, emerging from the swamp heat of Manaus in the second game to put in another grind-it-out performance. With Johnson streaking up and down the the right wing and Beasley residing on the wrong side of 30, these guys have to be tired. Don’t be surprised to see young legs such as Timmy Chandler, John Brooks, or DeAndre Yedlin in a starting role on Tuesday.