Dig Baton Rouge

Everything to Play For

By Trey Mongrue

Michael Bradley summed it up about a month ago.

“This will be a World Cup where teams that do well will suffer,” said the United States Men’s National Team midfielder. “We want to be the team that can suffer the most.”

When the eight groups where drawn for the 2014 FIFA World Cup last December, it became immediately apparent that the United States was going to suffer, having drawn European favorite Germany, Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portugal and Ghana – a team that has been a constant thorn in the USA’s side.

Not many gave the United States much of a chance to win a game, let alone advance out of this murderous group.

Yet, there they were last Sunday, following a wonder strike of a goal from Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey’s second goal of the tournament, the USA held a 2-1 lead over Portugal and was eight minutes and stoppage time away from pulling off its second consecutive win.

Keep in mind, this is the United States we are talking about. This is a country that ranks soccer comfortably behind football, baseball, basketball and maybe even hockey depending on who you ask. It’s a country where the youth soccer development is so backwards from the rest of the world that it is considered more of a nuisance than a threat every four years when the World Cup comes around.

Despite all of that, the USA was on the cusp of becoming the first team to advance out of Group G.

We all know what happened.

With mere seconds left in stoppage time, Portugal forced a turnover at midfield, quickly got the ball out wide to Ronaldo who then whipped in a beauty of a cross to Silvestre Varela’s head for the tying goal.

Full time: United States 2, Portugal 2

Look, don’t get me wrong, the United States is by no means out of this thing – quite the contrary, actually. It will take a lot of crazy things to happen on Thursday for the United States not to advance out of this group.

Had I been told two weeks ago that the USA would have four points in hand after its first two games, I would have been the happiest human being on earth.

However, I’d be lying if I did not say that watching Silvestre head that ball into the back of the net didn’t feel like a Mike Tyson right cross landing flush to my stomach. Maybe it was karmic synergy rearing its ugly head since the opening win against Ghana saw the African nation dictate much of that game, but what I watched last Sunday was some of the most beautiful soccer that the USA has ever played, and it just so happened to be on the world’s biggest stage.

It was more than enough to earn that all-important three points and a ticket to the next stage.

After allowing that gift of a goal to Nani to fall behind inside of six minutes, America quickly turned the game on its head. Fabian Johnson was wreaking havoc up and down the right wing, Bradley, Jones and Kyle Beckerman were playing a flawlessly cohesive midfield and Dempsey’s runs at Portugal’s makeshift backline were a threat all night long.

It wasn’t the Portuguese that looked like the world’s fourth ranked team. The United States was the better team that night.

And I think that is why this loss… err, I mean draw… hurts so bad.

Over the past few decades, USA soccer has had many of opportunity to have its coming out party, however, it would always seem to end in sadness. The 2002 World Cup quarterfinals, the 2006 World Cup and the 2009 Confederations Cup all come to mind.

Last Sunday was just the latest, and most bone-crushing, example.

And now, we all have to sweat out this Thursday when the USA takes on Germany. A win or draw, and all of this will be quickly forgotten and the “I Believe” chants will simply ring out louder than ever before.

A loss, coupled by a big Ghana win over Portugal (or an even bigger Portugal win over Ghana) and the USA will be suffering just like Bradley said. Unfortunately, they will be suffering on a plane back to the United States and the 2014 World Cup will go down as one of the program’s most heart breaking moments.

For you new fans that just started watching this sport, welcome to the World Cup. It’s awesome, right?

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