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It happened. And it sucked.

Photo credit: New York Red Bulls

Photo credit: New York Red Bulls

Ignoring for a moment the ball-sized cavern in my heart, let’s acknowledge what a great game of football that was. The cavalcade of joy that accompanied Jones’ swerving laser beam could only be matched by the dread I experienced as Cristiano curled a cross in front of Howard’s goal in the dying moments of injury time. Win, lose, or draw, those moments make me this sport worth watching.

The 2014 World Cup has been beyond excellent, and Group G has consistently been the most entertaining group. With all four teams alive entering the final match day, Thursday’s going to be one hell of a finish. This is the Group of Death.

Now if you’re ready to relive last night’s action, start reading below.

Warm Up

Manaus. It was so hot that Cristiano tried to trick the weather into getting cooler by wearing long sleeves. Jurgen attempted the same maneuver with a baffling sweater choice. It didn’t work. Both teams were hot, tired, and drenched in sweat at kickoff.

Without Jozy, Jurgen sent out the Americans in a new, 4-5-1 formation. Leaving Aron Johannsson on the bench, Jurgen started both Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya on the wings to cover Nani and Ronaldo. In the center, Bradley played at the apex of a triangle behind Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman. It looked to be a defensive shape, but this game turned out to be anything but defensive for the #USMNT.

The Match Report

Team v. Individual, Part One
Football is a team sport, but there are moments in games where only one player matters. Despite our love of tactics and fancy diagrams on ESPN, some goals don’t result from a tactical system. Just as easily, one individual error or moment of solitary genius can completely change a game. Unfortunately, human error put the U.S. behind early.

That was ugly. Geoff Cameron’s shanked cross was the best gift Portugal has received thus far at the World Cup, and even Nani, the much maligned Manchester United winger, couldn’t miss from barn door range. 1-0 Portugal.

It was a horrific individual mistake, but these mistakes happen when defenders are constantly backpedalling, trying to put out fires. From the first kick, the United States struggled to maintain possession, playing nervous, cagey football. Portugal pounced on every timid U.S touch, and nearly doubled their lead if not for some finger-tip heroics from Tim Howard.

It’s easy to blame Cameron and praise Timmy, but the U.S. was pretty awful in the early moments of the game, which put Cameron in a position to screw up and gave Howard the chance to play hero.

Thankfully, the sleeping American giant woke up.

“Another Level”

Since taking command of the U.S. team in 2011, Jurgen Klinsmann promised to take the program to  “another level.”  On the field, Klinsmann’s vision of fluid, attacking football has rarely been present, but for large stretches of last night’s draw, the U.S. did just that. After weathering early Portugal attacks, the Yanks finally started clicking in the middle of the first half, finding space on the right wing that Cristiano Ronaldo refused to defend. Despite not having a true target forward, the front line interchanged to account for it, moving the ball quickly, sharing space, and popping in unexpected places. After the first 20 minutes, the U.S. largely dominated the match. Let’s look at the goals:

Jermaine Jones’ shot was on another level, almost a mirror-image of Messi’s game-winner against Iran on Saturday. If there’s been a standout performer for the U.S. so far, it has to be Jermaine Jones. He’s going to have to have another great game on Thursday against Germany.

This week, Clint Dempsey dropped a new rap single and scored a World Cup goal. Not bad. In a sequence that went Yedlin to Bradley to Zusi to Dempsey, the MLS contingent played some creative, attacking football to break down a bunkering Portugal.

2-1 up on Portugal in the 81st minute, American fans and players were already dreaming of the knockout rounds. Ronaldo wasn’t.

Individual v. Team, Part 2

Much has been made of Michael Bradley’s end-of-match turnover. It happened. It sucked. We’ve come to expect such outlandish reliability from Bradley that him losing the ball in the final seconds of a 2-1 match felt almost like a cruel, impossible dream.

As Taylor Twellman pointed out on Twitter, the U.S. still had good defensive shape when Bradley coughed up possession. Other players were culpable, too, on the second Portugal goal. Could Michael play better? Yes, but if you know anything about Bradley, he will be harder on himself than we ever could be.

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For me, the bigger problem here was personnel. All of Jurgen’s potential subs are of the “need a goal” variety and not the “protect the lead” type. Would fresh legs in central midfield have potentially stopped that goal? Maybe, but we’ll never know because Jurgen brought no cover for Beckerman, Jones, or Bradley. None.

That trio, who will have to go another 90 minutes on Thursday against Germany, must remain healthy and fresh if the U.S. is going to win again at this World Cup. Much media criticism has been shelled at Jurgen for not bringing a target man to replace Jozy, but against Portugal the Yanks actually looked good without one. The real missing piece last night was a defensive midfield sub. Anyone else wishing Mo Edu was on the bench to provide fresh legs and bite in the midfield to close out that game?

The Battle Hymn of the Republic 
[The die-hard American inside Andrew Helms speaks.]

I can’t lie. When that diving, hair-gelled shell of a man curled in a cross in front of Timmy’s goal and tied the game, I let out a primeval yell of anger and sadness that awoke the hibernating lemurs of the Amazon rainforest.

If you’d asked me two weeks ago if I’d be content with four points from two games, I would have said damn right. But it’s not two weeks ago. We paddled our way from Natal to Manaus like Huck Finn, dodging piranhas and poison dart frogs in the river, and I’m pissed.

In these moments of blinding rage, I must remember the larger truth: Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the U.S. Men’s National Team. I think about the bars packed with red, white, and blue supporters. I think about the thousands of U.S. fans traipsing across the rainforest to support our boys. I think about the throning masses in Grant Park, cheering for the U.S. like they did for Obama.

They can’t stop us. They can’t hold us back.

Glory, glory Hallelujah, the U.S. is marching on.

Injury Time

It’s a short week until Thursday. Familiarize yourself with the scenarios for advancement. Pray to the Old Gods and the New Gods for Jermaine Jones’ health. Don’t listen to anyone pontificating about the U.S. and Germany playing for a tie. This is the Group of Death. Everyone’s here to win.

Jurgen Wardrobe Report

If you read last week’s #JWR, you learned the true history of the blue polo. Ultimately, Jurgen needs to assume responsibility for his reckless wardrobe choice in tonight’s loss.

Jurgen, you seen what happens when you disobey the commands of the magic polo. Never again, Jurgen, never again.

What did you think of the draw against Portugal? Confident the U.S. will advance to the knockout rounds? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter @8by8mag and @andrew_helms.

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