Monday, June 23, 2014

A 2-2 Loss

Had the United States men's soccer team been offered the opportunity to take one point from its game against Portugal yesterday without having to actually play the game, TigerBlog is pretty sure the answer would have been "where do we sign?"

That would especially have been true five minutes into the game, when the U.S. gave up an awful goal to fall into an early hole.

So why did it feel like the Americans lost when the final whistle of its 2-2 tie with Portugal - the fourth-ranked team in the world in the current FIFA rankings - sounded?

It sure did, didn't it? TigerBlog can't remember too many situations like that, where a team came away with the outcome that it really hoped for and yet had it seem to be so crushing at the same time. The famous 29-29 Harvard-Yale tie in 1968 doesn't even fit, because a tie wasn't really what Harvard was hoping for, though it did lead to the immortal headline in the Harvard student paper: "Harvard Beats Yale 29-29."

By now you know what happened in the U.S. Portugal game, which could be called a 2-2 loss.

The U.S. rebounded from that awful goal to basically dominate Portugal. Even when the Americans still trailed 1-0, the sense that the game was turning was obvious.

And then Jermaine Jones curled in one of the best goals TigerBlog has ever seen to tie it at 1-1 in the 64th minute. And then Clint Dempsey chested the ball in to put the U.S. up 2-1 in the 81st minute.

It stayed that way through the 90th minute. Then TB saw five minutes of stoppage time, which is a lot, and thought "oh no."

As it turned out, that was one minute - or 30 seconds - too much. Christiano Ronaldo made a perfect cross to set up Varela, and it was a 2-2 final. In fact, the final whistle was blown just after the U.S. restarted the game.

Had the U.S. won, it would have clinched a spot in the knockout rounds and would have eliminated Portugal. Instead, all four teams in the group are still alive, as the U.S. plays Germany and Portugal plays Ghana Thursday, with both games at noon.

The U.S. is still in great shape to move on, even if it loses to Germany. Should the U.S. win or tie, it would definitely advance. Should the U.S. lose to Germany, then it would still have a huge edge in the tiebreakers.

As for the benefit of winning the group instead of finishing second, well, that's a big one. The first-place team in the U.S. group will play either Algeria, Russia or South Korea in the round of 16 (Sweet 16?). The second-place team in the U.S. group will play Belgium. That's a huge difference.

Still, when the draw was announced, the goal for the U.S. was to simply make it through, something that seemed unlikely with the fourth-ranked Portuguese, the second-ranked Germans and the long-time nemesis Ghana.

And now the Americans figure to get there. Of course, the team was so agonizingly close that it's hard to look at the tie against Portugal as a step in the right direction.

The World Cup is like no other event in the world, and this country is really missing out on what it's all about. There is no national fervor surrounding the World Cup in the U.S. like there is elsewhere.

TB emailed Diego Quesada, one of the men's lacrosse team's guides in Costa Rica in 2012, after "Los Ticos" knocked off Italy to go to 2-0-0 and clinch a spot in the knockout rounds. Diego said it was nuts there after the win.

In the U.S. it would have been nice to win, but there are still way more "what's the fuss about" people than there are "this is the greatest sporting event in the world" people.

TB was more into the U.S. team when Princeton's Bob Bradley was the head coach four years ago. Now he's rooting for the Americans, but he won't be crushed if it doesn't work out for them, as opposed to four years ago, when Ghana knocked the U.S. out. TB really wanted to see Bradley take the U.S. deep into the World Cup playoffs.

There is still a Bradley on the U.S. team - Michael Bradley, Bob's son and a former Princeton ballboy.

Shortly before Michael Bradley was about to play for the U.S. team, his uncle Scott - Princeton baseball coach Scott Bradley - was playing in the Old Timers' game at Yankee Stadium.

Scott ripped a solid single to rightfield and the was interviewed on the YES network, where he was asked primarily about his nephew and the World Cup.

It was pretty cool four years ago to have the Princeton baseball coach be the brother of the U.S. men's national team coach at the World Cup. It's not as cool this year, with only one Bradley on the U.S. team.

Still, the game yesterday was fairly heart-stopping, and it was much of what makes the World Cup great. An early goal always make the game better, as it changes the strategy for both teams. And to have the U.S. team come back the way it did was awesome, and from simply a fan of great sports moments perspective, the ending was also ridiculous.

And it sets up a wild Thursday to decide the group's two representatives in the next rounds.

If you're still ho-humming the World Cup, you're missing out big time.

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