Who’d have thought going into the U.S.-Portugal game Sunday night that a draw would be disappointing? Both teams felt the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows in the 2-2 tie Sunday night. Here are some talking points.
1. Talent show
Portugal had five players on the field that played in the UEFA Champions League, Europe’s premier club competition. It had the reigning World Player of the Year. And yet, the U.S. controlled most of the game after falling 1-0 behind, taking the game to Portugal and creating most of the chances until the very end. Despite the result, the technical quality of play was just what Klinsmann promised in 2011 when he took over the team. The Americans didn’t have to scrap and claw like they used to; they played the beautiful game beautifully against top-quality opposition. Regardless of what happens Thursday, U.S. soccer took a big step forward Sunday night.
2. Ronaldo arrives, just in time.
Playing hurt, largely invisible for 94 minutes, and with his team on the brink of elimination, Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t look anything like the world’s best player. Then, he produced a moment of class at the latest possible moment. Given time and space for one of the first times all night, Ronaldo produced an inch-perfect cross that Varela headed into the net. Now, Portugal is still alive, and the U.S. will have to sweat out its last game against Germany.
3. How will the U.S. react?
ESPN commentator Taylor Twellman was practically in mid-sentence praising coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s in-game adjustments helping turn the game from 1-0 Portugal to 2-1 U.S. as Ronaldo prepared to whip in the cross that led to the game-tying goal. The closeness of the victory made the draw feel like the worst kind of defeat. But the truth is, the U.S. — from the coaching staff, to the trainers, to the players on the field — did everything right for more than 94 minutes in sweltering heat, putting in a fantastic performance against a talented team with its backs against the wall. Will they remember that, or dwell on the 15-second loss of focus at the end?
Man of the match
Fabian Johnson, United States
The right back was a constant menace marauding down the flank all night and causing the Portugal defense all kinds of problems. Taking advantage of Ronaldo’s unwillingness to track back defensively, Johnson was the USA’s best option going forward for most of the night. Though he didn’t create either goal, his play helped the U.S. get back in the game.
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