Looks like we picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue! That was a pretty turbulent soccer match on Sunday. To try to make sense of it all, we’ve got a bunch of Grantland writers on hand to talk it out. This is a safe space!
Bill Barnwell: When the clock struck 94:00, DeAndre Yedlin had the ball in the opposite corner of the pitch while trying to shield it from Portuguese defenders. At 94:24, the ball was up for grabs in the Portuguese half of the field. Eight seconds later, at 94:32, a bullet header from substitute Portuguese striker Silvestre Varela hit the back of the net.
Given that the final whistle blew almost immediately after the ensuing kickoff, had the United States managed to hold the ball for another 10 seconds, it would have come away from Manaus with three points. It’s a bitter blow.
Most of the blame for Varela’s equalizer has fallen on the shoulders of midfielder Michael Bradley, and perhaps with good reason. With Portugal desperately trying to heave the ball upfield, Bradley had one job: Avoid losing the football.
There was probably not an American player on the pitch to whom you would rather have handed the assignment. Bradley is famously the son of a coach, and if anybody could understand how to tactically handle the situation, it was likely to be him. His error has been presented as a mental lapse from a player who should have just kicked the ball somewhere safe, but watch the replay and it’s more of a physical one.
Given a difficult ball to trap, Bradley’s first touch isn’t great and the ball gets away from him. He has to try to claim the ball at the second time of asking, at which point the Portuguese midfield has already closed in on him. It would have been exceedingly difficult for Bradley to boot the ball somewhere safe in that moment, and there was no guarantee an attempt to kick the hell out of the ball would have put it anywhere safe, given that he was all but facing the U.S. goal. Attempting to win possession, Bradley got muscled off the ball by a stronger player, which led to a Portuguese counter. It was a disappointing performance at a crucial time, but it was a physical mistake, not a mental one. More than likely, Bradley — who ran 7.6 miles during the match, more than anybody else on the pitch — was gassed.
And as Taylor Twellman noted after the match:
Jurgen Klinsmann had even brought on hulking center back Omar Gonzalez minutes earlier to serve as a deterrent against crosses into the box. You’d rather not give the ball away, but the USA should have been prepared to deal with having done so. So what happened?
Geoff Cameron got beat. After an awful miskick in the fifth minute led to the truly execrable Nani putting Portugal ahead, Cameron came up wanting on Portugal’s second goal.
Watch Varela’s run to meet the cross and you’ll see Cameron settle at the top of the box before being beaten to the spot for the goal. That just can’t happen. It’s hard to tell whether this was a mental gaffe or a physical problem. Was Cameron beaten for pace by the fresher Varela, who had come on 25 minutes earlier? It certainly seemed that way. Could there have been some sort of confusion about who was supposed to mark Varela as he made his way into the box? I’m the wrong person to ask, but it certainly seemed like Cameron realized he needed to get to that ball as soon as Cristiano Ronaldo hit it. He just wasn’t able to get there. It’s also worth noting that the versatile Cameron spent the year playing as a right back for Stoke before kicking back inside for the U.S. team. Cameron has plenty of experience playing in the center from his time in MLS, but is it possible that some sense of his spatial awareness as a central defender was rusty and he didn’t do the best job of accounting for his positioning within the box? Or was it all just impossible to defend?
I don’t know, and to be honest, I kinda want to stop watching the replay for a while, if you don’t mind. Blaming people for losses isn’t much fun, and I’m proud of the effort the U.S. put in. And it’s unfair and simplistic to pin the game-tying goal on Bradley.
Drawn and Quartered
Bill Simmons: Here’s my take Sunday night six hours after my first-ever stomach-punch draw …
People are making a big deal about soccer breaking through in America, thanks to the 2014 World Cup. It’s horseshit, because if this were true, our entire country would be traumatized right now. How do we let that guy behind us for Ronaldo’s desperation cross? How? Did Klinsmann sub in Rahim Moore at the 92-minute mark and I missed it? Miracle soccer goals should have high degrees of difficulty — think Megan Rapinoe to Abby Wambach in 2011, a play that had to go absolutely perfectly in like six different ways just to have a chance to work. Portugal’s second goal was your basic world-class cross coupled with a multi-defender collapse and a well-done header, which would have been fine, you know, except we were 25 seconds away from advancing to the next fucking round. If I watch one more person on TV say, “If you told me before the tournament we’d have four points after two games, I would have taken it,” I’m gonna throw up. We outplayed them and we choked. We could be spending our Monday making Ronaldo jokes, watching YouTube clips of American sports bars reacting to our go-ahead goal, and wondering who would win a fight between Clint Dempsey and Liam Neeson. This sucks.
Now You Know How It Is to Be a Rangers Fan
Katie Baker: As in all good horror films, the dagger sequence felt like it developed in slow motion. The ball was still on its way toward Silvestre Varela in the waning man-made seconds of stoppage time, but you already knew where it was going: over the line, into the goal, straight through the heart.
Now you know how it is to be English was a common refrain, but I didn’t really benefit from the comparison, because I’m already a New York Rangers fan. Varela’s goal felt a lot like Alec Martinez’s game winner in Game 5 nearly two weeks ago. Both teams rallied to 2-1 leads they eventually squandered in dreaded fashion, thanks to defensive breakdowns and giveaways from veteran players.
What’s interesting, though, is that the defining feature of the Rangers’ loss — that it happened in double overtime — was the opposite of what went down in the soccer match Sunday. If ever there was a weekend that could double as a PR campaign for the alleged beauty of the draw, this one was it: On Saturday, nearly six million Americans tuned in to watch a raucous Germany-Ghana thriller that also ended 2-2, and yesterday even the most heartbroken #USMNT diehards had to admit it was one hell of a match. Also, unlike the Rangers loss, this one isn’t final: The U.S. can still control its fate with a win or a more mutually beneficial tie against Germany on Thursday. Americans now actively rooting for something called a “gentleman’s draw”?! Maybe this sport really is catching on in our great nation after all.
The Greatest American Since John Anthony Brooks
Jermaine Jones is the greatest American since John Anthony Brooks. And he just might be this country’s best soccer player, too.
Through two games, J.J.’s put in one right-sided cyclone of a performance against Ghana — rising up to destroy everything on the left side of the field after slipping a slick assist to Clint Dempsey’s goal in the quiet of the first minute — and also scored maybe the greatest individual World Cup goal in U.S. history. (No disrespect, Bert Patenaude.) He’s second on the team in tackles and third in interceptions — but he’s suddenly turned creator (three chances created in two games) and bull-rushing winger, leading the Americans in dribbles completed per game. He’s controlled the chaos he brings to every game, just enough to wreck some Ghanaian and Portuguese dreams without ever haunting any American ones.
With Michael Bradley not the “I, Michael Bradley” the team has relied on for the past few years, the U.S. has needed Jones’s mad genius more than ever. In the most mind-boggling World Cup in recent memory, the team has four points — and Jermaine Jones seems like he’s right at home.
Support the Troops
netw3rk: Now that I’ve semi-recovered from Silvestre Varela’s header in the dying seconds of extra time, I’d like to take just a few moments to thank our troops for their service to our nation and for fathering children in Germany. Perhaps the most unexpected development of our continuing involvement in post–World War II Europe is the USMNT’s German American combination of Jermaine Jones (who’s been fantastic in both games), John “U.S. Grant” Brooks, Timothy Chandler, and Fabian Johnson, all sons of American servicemen stationed in Germany.
A quick timeline:
• May 1945: The Allies accept the unconditional surrender of the Nazi regime.
• June 1948: The ideological split between Tito and Stalin results in Yugoslavia being expelled from Cominform.
• April 1949: The United States commits itself to long-term Western European security, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization is formed. The U.S maintains upward of 200 military installations in West Germany.
• November 1981: Jermaine Jones is born in Frankfurt.
• December 1987: Fabian Johnson is born in Munich.
• November 1989: The Berlin Wall falls.
• March 1990: Timothy Chandler is born in Frankfurt.
• January 1993: John Brooks Jr. is born in Berlin.
• June 16, 2014: John Brooks Jr. scores the go-ahead goal against Ghana, becomes an American hero.
• June 22, 2014: In the 64th minute, Jermaine Jones equalizes with a screamer from outside the area that thoroughly baffles Portugal’s keeper. David Chang offers Jones a lifetime of free meals at his Momofuku restaurants.
• June 26, 2014: The United States draws with Germany, 1-1, forging a new NATO alliance (North Atlantic Tie Organization). Both teams go through to the knockout stage.
You Should Have Killed Me When You Had the Chance
Chris Ryan: Cristiano Ronaldo has had a pretty quiet World Cup on the pitch, and he’s been dogged by a topless stalker and rumors about career-threatening injuries off it. Still, despite playing pretty obviously on one leg and doing a Dwyane Wade imitation when it came to getting back on defense, all he needed was one sliver of an opening to make a huge difference. DaMarcus Beasley probably felt like he needed to back off Ronaldo to guard against the Real Madrid attacker making a break for goal, but instead Ronaldo bent it like Beckham.
The problem was, it didn’t make that much of a difference for Portugal. It’s done, barring a miracle. Before the game, Ronaldo was smiling, warmly greeting Tim Howard, and generally looking pretty ready to rumble. But fairly early into the action, you could tell he was going to play only one way, and only some of the time. It was bad enough when he couldn’t track back for Portugal, but it was almost sad when he couldn’t keep himself onside for several of the team’s almost-chances. Maybe that’s why he didn’t celebrate when his gorgeous cross got headed in; he knew he had nothing left in the tank for this tournament.
Mike L. Goodman: The World Cup makes fools of us all, except for maybe Jurgen Klinsmann. When he chose the 23-man World Cup roster, one of the oddest inclusions was 20-year-old DeAndre Yedlin. One of the most common mistakes national team coaches make when selecting their squads is picking too many defenders. Yedlin is arguably the fourth-best player at right back, his primary position (behind Fabian Johnson, Timothy Chandler, and Geoff Cameron, who starts at center back). And yet. There was the opportunity. With the game tied and a need to strengthen the defense and also inject speed for possible counterattacking opportunities, Yedlin was the perfect choice to play on the right midfield flank. Klinsmann recognized this opportunity, despite Yedlin having never played there before. (To be fair, he’d barely played anywhere before at an international level.)
To his credit, Yedlin was ready. Presented with the moment, he made the play to set the table for a goal that almost served as a dramatic game winner. So was Klinsmann wrong? Did he just luck into an opportunity to use the last man on the roster? Or was he right? Did he have the forethought to treat Yedlin like a specialist with a specific role the rest of us are only now understanding? Only Klinsmann knows for sure, and he probably won’t share any time soon. But with four points from two difficult games, I’m ready to believe.
Kansas City Bombers
Sean Fennessey: Friday night, defending MLS champion Sporting Kansas City will face off against the Portland Timbers in the team’s 16th regular-season match of the year. Missing from the field will be the team’s two best players, center back captain Matt Besler and playmaking midfielder Graham Zusi. They’re in Brazil, saving U.S. ass. Imagine a world in which LeBron James and Chris Bosh had to skip the final 20 games of the 2011-12 NBA season to go compete in the Olympics. That’s Besler and Zusi, right now. (Sorry, SKC fans.)
German imports Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, and John Anthony Brooks have earned the conquering-hero treatment, while Michael Bradley has been the proverbial yelling goat — but it’s these two quiet, American-born teammates (and best friends) who have been buttressing the play on both ends of the field. Zusi fired off the set piece that launched Brooks’s miraculous/preposterous goal against Ghana and then yesterday’s corner kick that eventually became Jones’s Michael Bay action-sequence equalizer. Besler has been sure-footed and wall-esque in front of the powerful likes of Asamoah Gyan and Éder in these first two matches. Neither has the name recognition, the legacy, the athleticism, the broken nose, the mixtapes, the Instagram accounts, or the pure narrative willpower to become more famous. But they’re being great together, as usual.
The Dread of Losing Kyle
Graham Parker: In the 14th minute, Kyle Beckerman and Raul Meireles had an incident. There was a hard tackle by the U.S. midfielder, and it looked as if it may have been followed up with an elbow to his Portuguese counterpart’s jaw.
The point isn’t the incident so much as what followed. I was covering the game live for the Guardian, and because of Hélder Postiga’s injury, I missed the significance of the Beckerman-Meireles clash at first. But as the half went on, tweets and emails began coming in. Plenty said that Beckerman deserved a straight red — many more said there was nothing to it. (Many in this camp admitted to a U.S. bias.)
What was really interesting about the reaction to the incident was the common worry among the U.S. fans who wrote to me about what might happen if Beckerman were to be suspended. Like it was a genuine concern.
I’ve covered the U.S. over the last few years of this World Cup cycle, and whenever Beckerman’s name was mentioned in dispatches, it was generally with the fear of him getting anywhere near the field. Too slow, too mediocre, too everything wrong with USMNT aspirations. Those were the routine reactions. When the draw was announced, Beckerman was one of the players routinely invoked in nightmare scenarios that started “Imagine Ronaldo/Özil/Gyan running at …”
I’d keep trying to square those vehement descriptions with my repeat experience of Beckerman as the type of solid role player who’s perfect for tournaments, precisely because of his solidity. Simply put: You ask him to do a job and he does it, while making others’ jobs easier. He’s a smart bigger-picture guy.
Against Ghana, Beckerman was one of the players of the game, and against Portugal, despite a couple scares (mainly not of his making), he yet again anchored the midfield. Jermaine Jones may have caught the eye with his forward movement and spectacular goal, but it’s no coincidence he’s looked like a liberated player since the arrival of Beckerman in the starting lineup.
The Meireles incident may have been the first time Beckerman truly caught the world’s attention for anything other than his hair, but it also marked a moment when his stock among USA fans truly rose. They were confronted with the specter of what it might be like to lose him. It scared them.