World Cup: Recaps

World Cup Recap: USMNT 2–2 Portugal

After giving up a goal in the first five minutes, the U.S. worked extremely hard to get back in the game, eventually outplaying Portugal and going ahead, 2–1, before giving up a goal at the death. Cristiano Ronaldo was quiet for all of the game, but had one moment of quality, which earned Portugal the draw, and kept the group completely undecided.

First half

With Matt Besler recovered from his hamstring tightness, the U.S. made one change from the lineup that started against Ghana. Graham Zusi came in for Jozy Altidore, shifting the formation from 4-4-2 to 4-5-1, with Clint Dempsey leading the line alone.

For Portugal’s part, in addition to the absences of Pepe and Fabio Coentrao in defense, the goalkeeper Beto made his competitive debut for the national side, meaning three of five starting defenders were changed from the first game.

Cristiano Ronaldo, sporting a brace on his injured left knee, floated from side to side, not tethered to either flank, but it would not be him to make the first impact. In the 5th minute, Portugal played an aimless pass into the U.S. Geoff Cameron was there to clear it, but made a mess of it. The ball floated over the defense and fell for Nani, who waited for Tim Howard to commit then finished over him. A nightmare start for the U.S.

For the next few minutes, Portugal ran rampant, owning the ball. The U.S. huffed and puffed to deny space, but couldn’t hold onto the ball. But by the 10th minute, the U.S. grew into the game, and started looking like a better, if not the better, side. First Fabian Johnson had a cut inside and a lash at goal that flew just wide. Moments later, Johnson earned a free kick with a marauding run upfield. Dempsey took it and put it just high. U.S. near-misses would become a theme, as Michael Bradley put a shot over the bar in the 17th, then nearly scuffed a shot in, Neymar style, in the 28th. Before that, Dempsey had a shot inside the box blocked, vitally. In the 32nd, Johnson had another shot whistle wide, and in the 35th, Jermaine Jones had a shot saved well by Beto.

In short, the U.S. was looking much, much better, and Ronaldo was quiet. At least, until the 36th, when he had his first shot. That one was well held by Howard, but he’d have more work to do. In the 42nd minute, a Portuguese counter led to a Nani shot that Howard did well to save, but the U.S. gave a up a free kick in the aftermath, which Ronaldo put well over.

But the most dramatic moment of the half since the goal came as the clock passed 45. Portugal was possessing the ball with little danger outside the US box, but Nani received the ball just outside the U.S. box and let fly again. The ball was moving fast, and Howard could only deflect it onto his post. The ball rebounded to Eder, who floated in a chip, thinking Howard stranded. He was wrong, as Howard made a dramatic finger tip saving, pushing the ball over the bar as he fell to the ground.

The U.S. finished the half with 9 shots (one more than in the entire game against Ghana), equaling Portugal, and had a near-split in the possession number. But the only statistic that mattered was the score.

Second half

The U.S. started the second half as they had finished the first, matching Portugal’s possession, and creating good chances. In the 49th, Johnson again got high on the right, and his cross nearly deflected in, but Beto did well to hold it. The U.S. was getting forward well but failing to connect on the final pass.

But in the 55th, it all came together. Zusi fed Johnson high right, again. This time, his cutback was perfect, and Bradley had the goal at his mercy. He did well to get over the ball and put it on frame with power, but a miraculous block on the line by ROcardo Costa kept the ball out.

Jones was the danger man, constantly causing problems for Portugal’s defense. Ronaldo, for his part, was struggling. None of his chances troubled Howard, shanking shots and putting free kicks off target.

Jermaine Jones, however, was having another great game, breaking up play and keeping the ball moving offensively. And he would drag the U.S. back. In the 64th, a Zusi corner was cleared out to Jones. He settled, then cut central, onto his right foot, and ripped a bending shot to the far post, where it found the side netting. Beto didn’t even move.

Portugal woke up a bit, then, and Howard was called on to make a save from Meireles just two minutes later. But, in truth, it was all the U.S. Portugal was reduced to Nani dives in the box to get going.

Klinsmann brought on DeAndre Yedlin, taking Alejandro Bedoya off. He slotted in front of of Johnson, his speed opening up that side of the field even further. But it would be the one and only Clint Dempsey who dragged the U.S. in front. Yedlin would play his part, getting to the byline. His cutback for Dempsey was deflected, but to Bradley. Bradley’s shot was blocked, but to Zusi. Zusi’s short, soft cross was turned in by Dempsey’s six-pack.

There were ten minutes and extra time remaining, and with Portugal’s World Cup in the balance, Ronaldo and Company shifted into a higher gear, but the U.S. held them at bay. The U.S. brought on Chris Wondolowski for Dempsey, who’d taken a knock, and Wondo held the ball high up the field on multiple occasions, killing clock. Omar Gonzalez came on at the end of regulation time to add another tall body to deal with crosses.

And it seemed like it was going to work.

The U.S. turned everything away.

Portugal had nothing.

Until the 95th minute.

A soft turnover by Bradley in midfield led to a final Portugal break. This time, Ronaldo took the ball wide right. He looked up and saw a streaking Varela at the back post. For the only time all game—for the first time at the World Cup—Ronaldo showed the quality that won him the Ballon d’Or, and sent in a pinpoint beauty of a cross, which Varela duly headed in.

There were three U.S. players nearby, but none near enough, and the game ended, 2–2.

U.S. verdict

Beginnings and endings: Bar the mistake for the opening goal and the mistakes that led to the equalizing goal by Portugal, the U.S. was equal to Portugal, if not the better team. And yet, it will be those moments that stay in the U.S. players’ memories. The U.S. needed two moments of concentration, one at the start, one at the end, and it didn’t get them. Two moments, and the U.S. would be through. Instead, Germany looms.

Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman: Two less heralded players there could not be on the U.S. team, but both men, Jones in particular, have had excellent games for the U.S. Jones, of course, belted in one of the greatest U.S. World Cup goals in history.

Fabian Johnson: Johnson, however, was the U.S.’s man of the match. Portugal had no answer for his runs up the right side, either around the corner or up the middle. He didn’t have the legs to get goalside of Varela at the end, but it would be cruel to judge him for that, considering the running that came before, and the poor turnover that led to Portugal’s chance.

Michael Bradley: Bradley was much improved in this game. He was powerful, his passing was crisper, and he played good defense. But. But he missed when he should have scored, Costa block or not. And he made a bad pass to gift Portugal the final chance. An unfortunate showing from the man who should be leading the U.S. into the second round.

Final thoughts

It’s hard to keep positive when a game ends in such frustrating circumstances. And yet, the positives for the U.S. must outweigh the negatives. Barring the Portuguese goals, the U.S. arguably put in the best performance by a U.S. team at a World Cup.

If the U.S. continues to play at this level, it can get a result against Germany. Both teams need only a tie to advance, and that is within the U.S.’s reach.

But this one stings. Portugal will feel lucky to get a point, while the U.S. feels gutted. That’s remarkable in itself—Think how far we’ve come!—but that doesn’t change the facts. The U.S. could have won and qualified for the next round, but instead has to face Germany with it all on the line.


  1. i have figured out that this sport is an elaborate conspiracy designed to shorten my life

  2. Looks like I’m going to use that vacation day on Thursday after all.

  3. OneManWolfpack says:

    I have no words for that last goal. Unreal. Michael Bradley’s giveaway at the end to start that final play in motion was just unaccepatable. He has to be better. To fight back and draw (feels like a loss) like that is just crushng. To be through and not have to worry about Germany would’ve been beyond impressive. Yeah you’re in a good spot by getting a point but to have gotten two wins in two games would’ve been phenomenal.
    Gonna be another heart attack come Thursday afternoon…. breathe, just breathe… haha

  4. Now I’m aggravated that Germany didn’t take care of business against the Ghanaians. If they’d won, we’d be virtually assured of making the group stage.

    As it stands, if Portugal draws we’re in, and if they win we’re almost certainly in. But if we lose to Germany (which has to be considered most likely) and Ghana wins (entirely possible the way they & Portugal have been playing), we may be out.

  5. A team ready for upper echelon or world class status wins that game 2-0 or 2-1. Having said that, 12 days ago if you told me we would be sitting on 4 points after Ghana and Portugal I would have been pleased. Can’t help but think this was a missed opportunity. How we respond, how Klinsman keeps the team from feeling like this is a loss is all that matters now. What I know is a win tonight then a draw against Germany would get us Algeria or Russia which is better than Belgium IMO.
    I had just texted my buddy about how astutley Bradley was handling the final moments of the game then he tried to carry the ball through 3 swarming red shirts. That play and the guffaw by Cameron are emblematic and too common. We are moving in right direction though- slowly as it may be.

  6. Should have lost to Ghana, should have beat Portugal…overall, not too shabby and people are talking about soccer. Go USA! Love Jermaine Jones’s game. He’s the man and Fabian Johnson on the wing exuded class. His shot in the first half was stunning–absolutely froze Beto.

  7. The Black Hand says:

    That was the best USMNT performance that I have seen, to date. We outplayed Portugal (#4 team in world) and were one bad pass away from advancing from the “Group of Death” (before Germany). Our national team is hanging with the ‘big dogs’!!

  8. Andy Muenz says:

    Unfortunately, head to head is the 3rd tiebreaker and not the first. Otherwise the US would be in much better shape heading into Thursday.

  9. Great One says:

    First off, I have a meeting Thursday at 1 that I can’t miss. Why do the soccer gods so this to me. I have to navigate 4-5 hours without human contact having any chance of ruining it for me. Damn you Michael Bradley and damn you Geoff Cameron.
    Besides that I have the same feelings as most. Amazed to see us take the game to Portugal and impressed by many individual performances, but absolutely gutted at the end.
    Really really impressed with Besler, I thought he had an absolutely stellar game.

  10. I was watching with a large group at a friend’s house. After the match everybody was so upset and I just sat quietly taking it in stride. A guy asked me why I wasn’t bitching like everyone else. I told him I’m a Union supporter so I’m completely used to this kind of heartbreak.

  11. This is JK’s team & – whatever the outcome Thursday – the future of the USMNT looks brilliant. His picks, his subs & his tactics could not have been better. Manager’s impact often is overrated, but not here. Team has improved each game & it will take another gear just to draw with the betting favorite to win the WC. Howard, Jones, Beasley, Johnson, Dempsey & Zusi were just fantastic. Germany might’ve been vital even with an advance yesterday given the group winner’s chance to avoid Belgium next.

  12. I give credit to Klinsman. He had the team continue to push after equalizing. Bob Bradley or Bruce Arena would have packed it in and tried to hold on for the point. If we had done that, we would have lost, but instead Klinsy had them keep pushing, and we almost pulled off the unthinkable. Yea Soccer!!

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