Make no mistake: USA earned spot

ASSOCIATED PRESS Clint Dempsey tangles with Germany's Per Mertesacker (left) and Jerome Boateng.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Clint Dempsey tangles with Germany's Per Mertesacker (left) and Jerome Boateng.
Posted: June 27, 2014

THE EXTREME CYNICS out there will say the United States sneaked in through the back door into the round of 16 of the 2014 World Cup.

Those new to the sport might have been a bit confused by the celebrations that the USA's 1-0 loss to Germany yesterday generated among the American faithful - thousands who traveled to Brazil and millions who watched on television.

Group play in a World Cup isn't about any single game. It is about a collective effort over the course of three matches.

The United States is staying in Brazil a lot longer than most expected. The Americans are not three matches and done, as so many said they would be when they were drawn into Group G with Germany, Portugal and Ghana.

In this particular "Group of Death," the USA was viewed as the least likely to go on living.

So, yes, Team USA lost to Germany in the final match of group play, but it had opened by beating Ghana, 2-1, and then despite the gut-wrenching ending, recorded a 2-2 draw with Portugal.

The right to advance in the tournament by losing a close match to Germany wasn't something given to the Americans. It was earned.

Portugal beat Ghana, 2-1, to also finish with four points, but because it got hammered, 4-0, by Germany, it needed to make up a five-goal differential to win a tie-breaker against the United States.

Ghana needed only to make up a one-goal differential, but that never even came into play, because it lost to Portugal.

The USA gained enough points to advance out of a Group of Death while traveling more than 9,000 miles - the most of any of the 32 teams - for three matches in 11 days.

That's not slipping through the back door. That's called kicking in the front door to walk into the round of 16.

"It's huge," United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "Obviously, we wanted at least a tie out of [the Germany] game, but, overall, it was tremendous energy and effort by the whole side.

"Everybody said we had no chance. We took that chance and we move on. Now we really want to prove a point. We can't wait to get to the round of 16."

The United States advanced to the knockout stage in consecutive World Cups for the first time in its history. It will play Group H winner Belgium on Tuesday.

"It's great to advance out of a group many didn't expect us to," USA captain Clint Dempsey said. "We always believed in ourselves and that we could get out of this Group if we played well."

Over the course of three matches, the USA played well enough. Even the loss to Germany was not because of a poor effort.

Again consider the circumstances.

Germany is one of the favorites to win the World Cup and, player for player, is superior to the United States.

With the possible exception of goaltender Tim Howard, no USA player would crack the German starting lineup.

Several German reserves would instantly start for the United States.

Two USA starters, Jermaine Jones and Fabian Johnson, have German citizenship, but used their FIFA dual-nation status to join the USA program because they likely would never have made a World Cup roster for Germany.

Wanting to win Group G, the Germans attacked the United States from the opening whistle.

The USA held off and reached halftime scoreless.

The Americans went into the locker room knowing Portugal led Ghana, 1-0, but that could not have provided much measure of relief.

At that time, beating or tying Germany was still the only sure way to secure passage into the round of 16.

Then Thomas Mueller scored in the 55th minute for Germany, and everything got cloudier for the USA.

It is likely that Alejando Bedoya let his teammates know that Ghana had tied Portugal when he subbed into the match in the 59th minute.

Ghana, which had eliminated the United States from the previous two World Cups, was a go-ahead goal away from getting the spot in the round of 16.

The USA players pushed back at Germany, not backing down, not just waiting for Portugal to do the job for them. They pressed their attack and created a few opportunities for an equalizer.

It is likely that Klinsmann specifically told substitute DeAndre Yedlin not to inform his teammates that Portugal had just taken a 2-1 lead when he entered the game in the 84th minute.

"I didn't know [the score of Portugal and Ghana]," Dempsey said. "We just wanted to an equalizer."

And they nearly got one in the waning moments when a header by Dempsey went over the crossbar.

"We wanted to get a result, but, at the end of the day, we're excited to get to the knockout stage," Dempsey said. "We put in a lot of hard work and showed a lot of character even when we weren't playing well. The knockout stages anybody can go through if you bring it on that day."

There are no moral victories, but, in some scenarios, there can be rewards for a high-quality loss.

The United States earned one of those situations and took advantage. Sixteen teams are leaving the World Cup that wish they could say the same.


comments powered by Disqus