Two moments from last night will be plaguing United States’ midfielder Michael Bradley. The most obvious incident was when Portugal’s Ricardo Costa blocked what should have been a fairly straightforward tap-in for the FC Toronto midfielder. The other was with seconds to go, and the U.S. leading, the ball fell to Bradley who rather than running out the clock, needlessly gave it away which resulted in Portugal’s last gasp equalizer.
Of course, to blame Bradley for last night’s result is unfair. After arguably his worst performance in an American jersey against Ghana, Bradley played his heart out and impressively against the Portuguese, spraying perfect passes beyond their defense for Clint Dempsey to threaten. But it also symbolized much of the team’s performance. Despite playing some entertaining soccer and controlling much of the game, the U.S. has a tendency to make some incredibly sloppy errors that their opponents ruthlessly exploit. Last night was no exception.
After just five minutes the U.S. was behind after the usually very reliable Geoff Cameron made a woeful attempt at a clearance that landed straight into the path of Manchester United’s winger Nani. Left completely unmarked, Nani punished the Americans and in doing so revitalized Portugal’s World Cup dream. And yet after some nervous defending the U.S. threatened to find their way back into the game with Dempsey and the fantastic Fabian Johnson providing some intricate link-up play. Rarely, however, did they challenge Portugal’s goal.
But as the U.S. grew frustrated and had to resort to more long-range efforts, it was the Portuguese that looked increasingly like they would double their lead. Tim Howard had already been called into action a few times in the match, but somehow managed to stop a second Portuguese goal. Although he should have done better from Nani’s shot that cannoned off the post, the Everton goalkeeper pulled off a one-handed save from Eder that people will be replaying for years to come. The save’s timing—right before half-time—provided a lifeline for the U.S. which Jürgen Klinsmann’s men seized with both hands.
In the second half the United States dominated and it was Johnson who continued to torment Portugal’s defense. After Bradley failed to finish what should have been a certain goal, there was a sense that it might just not be the United States’ night, but then 20 minutes into the second half fortunes changed in spectacular fashion. Jermaine Jones, who yet again impressed throughout, picked up a half-hearted clearance attempt before curling a perfect finish beyond Bento from 22 yards. For the neutrals, the goal helped bring Portugal back into the game as they searched for that elusive winner. But that too would not be forthcoming.
As both sides pressed for a winner, Bradley found Graham Zusi inside the box, whose chipped cross was bundled over the line by Dempsey to send millions of fans back home into rapturous celebrations. With minutes to go, Portugal looked all but set to be eliminated from World Cup until Bradley was dispossessed and Cristiano Ronaldo’s exquisite cross was headed home by substitute Silvestre Varela. A lot of criticism has rightfully come Ronaldo’s way, but when it mattered he stepped up and saved his team from elimination. And shattered American hearts at the same time.
What we learned about … the United States: To be 30 seconds away from qualifying from the ‘Group of Death’ and then concede an equalizer was cruel, but that’s the beautiful game. This was an impressive performance from Klinsmann’s men: Dempsey again led by example, Kyle Beckerman roughed-up the Portuguese midfield with some perfect tackles, while Jones and Johnson also put in first-rate performances. The only real concerns are the obvious lapses in concentration. If these are not addressed, the U.S. can still find themselves facing a premature exit from Brazil. If they are and win or tie against Klinsmann’s home nation this Thursday, the U.S. will shock the world and be through to the next round.
What we learned about … Portugal: Ronaldo’s cross didn’t just help keep his country in the World Cup, it was also perhaps the only memorable thing the Portuguese have done in Brazil. Although they certainly had opportunities to finish the U.S. off in the first half Portugal were again unspectacular with Ronaldo struggling to impress and growing increasingly frustrated. Given Germany’s 4-0 victory in their opening match, staying in the tournament still looks like a huge task for Portugal as they prepare to face Ghana. In order to continue their World Cup dream, Ronaldo & Co will require a stunning performance. Right now they’ve been entirely forgetful.
Ewan Watt writes extensively on state and national issues in the US, covering the 2012 presidential election for both print and online publications. He is providing commentary for the Daily Caller on a regular basis throughout the World Cup. He writes strictly in a personal capacity. You can follow him on Twitter at @ewancwatt