The United States huddle before kickoff of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group G match between the United States and Portugal at Arena Amazonia on June 22, 2014 in Manaus, Brazil.
Six months ago, a draw with Portugal would have been considered a good result for fans of the U.S. men’s national soccer team. Now, after the U.S. gave up the equalizing goal in the final 30 seconds on Sunday, the 2-2 tie feels like a loss for the United States.
So the United States must climb another hill, physically, as well as emotionally, to face arguably its most difficult opponent in the 2014 FIFA World Cup — Germany.
“I think we like to do things the hard way,” U.S. defender Matt Besler said. “It’s the American way.”
The final Group G match for Team USA Thursday in Recife, Brazil, will decide the Americans’ World Cup fate. With a win or draw, Team USA advances to the second round. Both the United States and Germany have four points each, with Ghana and Portugal both earning one point each.
The United States can advance even with a loss if Portugal and Ghana draw in a game that will be played simultaneously in Brasilia. A loss could also put the United States through on a goal-differential tiebreaker depending on the final score of the Portugal-Ghana game.
But U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said it’s not in his team’s nature to leave fate for others to decide.
“We’re not thinking about a tie,” Klinsmann said. “We know that a tie gets us through, too, but our goal is to beat Germany and be first in our group in order to play the second in the other group in the round of 16.
“We cannot just hope that it just goes our way. We have to work hard for it.”
Working hard first includes overcoming the realization that the United States was so close to qualifying for the second round of the World Cup on Sunday, before Silvestre Varela equalized for Portugal in the final minute and changed everything. A win would have assured the United States advanced to the second round in consecutive World Cups for the first time; instead everything is on the line against Germany — win and advance, or go home.
“You live through those emotions positively and negatively,” U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “You just kind of cross it off … and move on. We have to move on quickly.”
The United States will have several obstacles stacked in front of it, besides the emotional depletion from surrendering a game-tying goal in the final 30 seconds against Portugal. It will have to compensate for the continued absence of striker Jozy Altidore (hamstring); it will have a day’s less recovery time than the Germans; and it will have to overcome its history against Germany.
The Americans have won only three of nine games against Germany, one of them coming a year ago, a 4-3 victory in Washington, D.C., in the centennial celebration game of the U.S. Soccer Federation. The United States has lost both previous encounters with Germany in the World Cup, 2-0 in France at the 1998 World Cup and 1-0 in the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup in South Korea.
The United States will have had just over three and a half days of recovery time by the start of the Germany match from the end of the Portugal game.
And Altidore is still hobbled by the left hamstring he strained midway through the first half of the opening match against Ghana June 16.
“I think we had one foot in the door, so there’s a small bit of disappointment,” Howard said. “Realistically, we have given ourselves every chance to advance.
“We are optimistic; we are pretty much where we wanted to be when we started this whole process. We wanted to be going into this last game feeling like we have a chance, and we do.”
At least there won’t be many secrets Germany can spring on the United States. Klinsmann played for West Germany from 1987 to 1998. He was part of an Olympic bronze medal squad and a FIFA World Cup title winning team. He managed the team from 2004 to 2006, including a third-place finish at the 2006 World Cup. His assistant then, Joachim Loew, is now Germany’s manager.
And Klinsmann has incorporated five German Americans into the U.S. team: defenders John Brooks, Timothy Chandler and Fabian Johnson, midfielder Jermaine Jones, and forward Julian Green, all of whom grew up in Germany and four of whom currently play in the Bundesliga.
The prospect of collusion between friends, knowing a draw between the United States and Germany would send both to the next round, already has been raised by some. Klinsmann said he is too busy to be arranging clandestine deals in dark rooms.
“Jogi’s (Loew) doing his job; we are good friends and I do my job,” Klinsman said. “My job is to get everything done to make us go into the Round of 16 — that’s what I’m going to do. There’s no time right now to have friendship calls. It’s about business now.”
Brian Trusdell is a writer from New Jersey. He has covered four FIFA World Cups and six Olympic Games during his more than 30 years as a sportswriter, mostly with the Associated Press and Bloomberg News. He is a freelance contributor toTeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.