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US Settles For Heartbreaking Draw Against Portugal

by Photo of Ross Bernhardt

With the game all but won, a turnover created one last opportunity which Portugal capitalized on.

US Settles For Heartbreaking Draw Against Portugal

As I've been staring at this blank screen, finding the right words to describe the numbing, deflating feeling of watching a historic win evaporate in an instant. The United States had victory and a ticket to the knockout round. They HAD it. 

And just like that, they didn't. 

Somehow, Portugal managed to force the equalizing goal in the final seconds of stoppage time off an absolutely stunning cross by Cristiano Ronaldo to a streaking and barely covered Silvestre Varela. US goalkeeper Tim Howard had no chance. Instead of a thrilling 2-1 win and a ticket punched to the knockout stage, somehow the US had to settle for a draw and a huge match against Germany on Thursday.

The Emotional Roller Coaster That Is U.S. Soccer

I watched the game at a bar in Brooklyn with a room full of US supporters. There was so much excitement and intrigue entering the match. Both the US and Portugal were playing with roster limitations. The US lost Jozy Altidore to injury while Clint Dempsey and Matt Besler were less than 100 percent. Portugal lost defender Pepe to a red card and Fabio Coentrao and Hugo Almeida to injuries. Ronaldo was also not in top form. 

This all played to so many unknowns. How would the US adjust without Altidore? How would Portugal come out after such a dreadful showing against Germany? What kind of impact would Ronaldo have? Even with so many question marks, it was hard not to feel good about the U.S. going in.

It didn't take long for the roller coaster of emotions to begin. A mishit on a clearance attempt by Geoff Cameron gifted the ball to talented forward Nani, who blasted it by Howard just five minutes into the game. It was the worst possible start that turned our excitement into misery and dread. With the goal, Portugal could relax and play within themselves instead of pressing for goals. The U.S. would have to be the ones playing at a higher gear. At the time of the goal, it seemed like the floodgates could potentially open and a deluge of goals was imminent, especially after such a poor and unlucky play.

Thankfully, the U.S. wasn't nearly as pessimistic as I was. For the rest of the first half, they peppered the Portuguese with several great chances. Clint Dempsey, Fabian Johnson and Jermaine Jones were all able to break in or put good shots on. With the kind of opportunities they were getting and the kind of possession they had, it seemed like an American goal was more likely than a Portuguese, even when they went into the half trailing by that 1-0 score. Moods were cautiously optimistic.

Resiliency Delivers

After more good looks and some heroics from Howard in goal, the U.S. finally equalized, but in an unexpected manner. The Americans were creating solid shots and taking some good but not great shots from distance. When Jones corralled a loose ball outside the penalty box and let one rip towards net, everyone was stunned when it hit the back of the net. We couldn't believe that he'd taken the shot or that he'd scored, and neither could Portugal's goalkeeper Beto. He stood motionless as Jones' rocket soared past him.

The bar quickly went from stunned to euphoric. Screaming and hugging and chanting commenced. With 30 or so minutes left, victory was still a real possibility and a draw even more so. While Portugal controlled the pace for the immediate stretch after the equalizer, faith was still strong.

Our faith was rewarded on a broken but opportunistic attack in the 80th minute. Sub DeAndre Yedlin used his speed to advance the ball up the right sideline deep into Portugal's territory. He put a ball in towards Dempsey and Michael Bradley that got batted around. It wound up on the foot of Bradley, whose shot deflected to Graham Zusi, who put a ball right where only Dempsey could handle it. He assuredly chested the ball on target and gave the U.S. a 2-1 lead.

At this point, the game was ours. Everyone in the bar could feel it. This was simply too charmed a comeback to fail. The U.S. was actually going to advance out of the group without needing a specific result against Germany. We all shouted until we were hoarse as this was all too good to be true.

Of course, we would ultimately find out that it was, but it couldn't have been revealed in a more heartbreaking manner. With each passing minute, anxiety faded into cautious euphoria. Everyone wanted that final whistle to blow so that the real celebration could begin. Five extra minutes were added in stoppage time, and it seemed like all of the U.S. stalling tactics were working to perfection. 

Then, in the 95th minute, everything swiftly crumbled. Bradley turned the ball over after receiving it with plenty of space on Portugal's side of the field. The ball was sent over to Ronaldo with ample space to work with on the right side and only Damarcus Beasley in his way. And then, this happened:

Varela crept in behind Cameron and put home the perfectly-placed ball from Ronaldo. Howard's reaction mirrored that of every U.S. fan. Hands raced to the head in anger, disbelief and absolute shock. How was it that in the course of 60 seconds, fortunes could swing so quickly? How did a sure victory turn into a draw just like that? We could only ask ourselves and each other these questions to try and find release from the numbness the result had caused.

I've never seen or experienced an entire an entire room deflate so completely in such a short period of time. Instead of patrons ordering celebratory beers, people glumly and quietly left the bar. Instead of wild revelry, we were all left trying to figure out the different tie-break scenarios angrily. It was a surreal shift that no one really adjusted to.  

An Unfit End

Talking with a friend after the game, he said something that I think everyone can agree on:

"That's not the ending the US deserved."

For a solid 65 percent of the game, I think the United States outplayed Portugal. An early fluke goal and a last-second lapse were the only real things that prevented victory. The U.S. generated great offense and scored on two brilliant goals. Plus, with the result, they still control their own destiny. A win or a draw against Germany means they advance. They proved themselves against a talented yet diminished world power and put themselves in great position to still advance out of the group.

Yet, the draw still stings like a loss. Even with all of the great things one can take away from the game (Jones, Dempsey, Fabian Johnson's continued improvement, strong play from Howard, Zusi again coming through with an assist), there are just as many things that have me scratching my head. Even when the team isn't on the pitch, the emotional roller coaster rides on as I alternately come to terms with the result and fret about America's chances. As much as I hate the ride, it's one I don't want to stop riding any time soon.

All GIFS via The Big Lead.  

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