Draw with Portugal slows US World Cup team
By Julia Green
It’s said that while winning is the objective, there’s much to be learned from a loss. That can also be said of a draw, such as the one the United States men’s national team posted against Portugal in its second game of the 2014 World Cup on Sunday night.
Riding high off a hard-won victory over Ghana, a win Sunday would have put the Americans at the top of group G and ensured their advancement to the knockout stage of play. And, with five minutes of stoppage time to play, it looked like such a result was all but in the bag.
But it’s soccer, and absolutely nothing is ever guaranteed, least of all a one-goal lead. After 94 minutes and 30 seconds of play, the United States surrendered control of its destiny.
An early goal by Portugal’s Nani in the fifth minute put the Americans in an early hole – one they struggled to get out of until the 64th minute, when Jermaine Jones made it 1-1 off a cross by Graham Zusi. The battle continued until captain Clint Dempsey put the U.S. ahead 2-1 in the 81st minute.
And with only one of five stoppage time minutes remaining, it looked like the Americans were headed for the knockout stage, until Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo sent a perfect bending cross into the box, where Varela headed it past U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard to pluck the win from the Americans’ fingers.
While the three points garnered from a win would have guaranteed American advancement, the single point they received with the tie leaves the group all but wide open. The United States now needs a result against Germany to guarantee passage; a loss will put the U.S. fate at the mercy of the outcome of the Ghana vs. Portugal match-up. If the Americans lose to Germany on Thursday, they will need a Portugal-Ghana draw, or they will need to hold the tiebreaker over the Portugal-Ghana winner.
From a tactical standpoint, the takeaway from Sunday’s tie is a clear one. There is an unwritten law in soccer called “The Five-Minute Rule,” which posits that a disproportionate number of goals are scored in three pivotal windows: the first five and last five minutes of a half and the five-minute window after a goal is scored.
This rule would appear nearly golden as it pertains to the United States’ World Cup performances thus far; in addition to the early and late goals the U.S. allowed Portugal, it scored its two goals in the Ghana game in the first and 86th minutes.
“To put ourselves in the driver’s seat for the last 16: that is our goal,” United States Head Coach Jürgen Klinsmann told reporters after Sunday’s draw.
Based on Sunday’s performance, step one to achieving that goal would be to take control of those key windows – first five and last five – that have been so crucial for the United States in the World Cup so far.
Currently, Germany sits atop the Group G table following its 4-0 trouncing of Portugal and a 2-2 tie with Ghana. The German side is currently ahead of the United States with a 4-1 goal differential; the only way for the United States to take the top spot is to defeat the Germans on Thursday.
The top team from the group stage will face the winner of Group H in the first elimination round; Group H includes current leader Belgium, Algeria, Russia, and South Korea.