Surviving a Group of Death: Thoughts from the USMNT’s Escape and the Rest from Thursday

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Soccer is weird. You’ve probably learned this from watching just a few matches of this zany tournament they’re calling “Brazil 2014,” but it rings true today, especially, most certainly. The U.S. has emerged from the Group of Death.

Full disclosure: I did not have the USMNT wiggling out from the clutches of Portugal and Germany. Heck, I was even drinking the Ghanaian Kool-Aid (Muntari-flavored!) before the opening match versus our African nemesis. But the U.S. has kept chugging, a whole nation swelling in support of their (slightly) improbable run.

The questions before the tournament – backline performance, goal scoring forwards – have been answered. Clint Dempsey has sparkled. The rotating carousel of defenders has spat out one terrific performance after another – first Geoff Cameron, then Matt Besler, today (and surprisingly so) Omar Gonzalez.

But as those nagging issues have been put to rest, others have popped up. When’s Jozy Altidore coming back? Where in the name of the Landon Donovan #10 kit is Mix Diskerud? And can we find a single wide midfielder that will make an impact?

The U.S. put up a mediocre performance for 80 minutes against Ghana and got a crucial victory. Six days later the Yanks pitched a “perfect game” for 94 minutes against Portugal and emerged with just one point. Today, the Stars and Stripes were punchless in a 1-0 loss to Germany. After the 90 minutes ticked away, the lifeless side remained on the pitch, euphoric hugs and triumphant arms held high dotting the drenched pitched in Recife.

The U.S. has crawled out from the vanquished dog pile of the Group of Death. Easy it was not. Predictable it was not. Some things are simple. Soccer can be random, given the relative scarcity of goals. And it is undoubtedly weird. — Peter Barston

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What a crazy world (Cup) we live in. When you win, you lose (Portugal), and when you lose, you win (U.S.). Hard to take a lot of positives away from the Americans’ showing against Germany. I’d like to think the game would’ve played out differently—at least in the shots on goal department—if we were not multiple goals ahead on goal differential on the two teams at the bottom of the group table. Altidore’s presence was sorely missed in this one. How many times did Timmy Howard or Omar Gonzalez blast the ball up field, only to see it trickle back to the German defense with no American in sight? No one on this 23-man roster can hold onto the ball with the strength and poise of Jozy.

Aleksandr Kokorin’s goal against Algeria in the sixth minute was quietly one of the nicest goals of the Cup so far. And then the Algerians completely flipped the script. They weren’t supposed to equalize. They weren’t supposed to advance out of Group H, which looked arguably the easiest to predict when the groups were drawn in December. But advance they did, and they earned themselves another five days in Brazil. I’ve long documented my distaste for the Algerians, but you have to respect a team that conceded one of the most iconic goals in American World Cup history, regrouped, qualified for the second straight cycle, and then advanced out of their group.

The first thing that came to mind when Cristiano Ronaldo scored late against Ghana to all but ensure advancement was Graham Zusi’s late goal in the final match of qualifying that kept Mexico’s World Cup dreams alive. What goes around comes around, I guess. — Matt Bell

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In a game where the USMNT was desperately hanging onto their goal differential edge over Ghana and Portugal, it is fitting that one of the most important players was a defender. Omar Gonzalez, who had only seen four minutes of action in the World Cup entering the game against Germany, played a large part in the effort to limit Germany’s chances and interfere with their shots. But the credit for putting Gonzalez in for Geoff Cameron at center back has to go to coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

With all the continuing scrutiny about leaving Landon Donovan off the American roster, Klinsmann has done a great job (for the most part, anyway) with his tactical substitutions. Graham Zusi and John Brooks were both substitutes in the Ghana game, and it was Zusi’s corner landing on Brooks’s head that created the winning goal against Ghana. Young speedster DeAndre Yedlin has made an impact late in games marauding down the right wing. The insertion of Brad Davis on Thursday was probably not the best idea, given Davis’s one unique skill (taking dangerous offensive free kicks) was unlikely to show up when the Americans spent the majority of the game without the ball. And not having a real replacement for Jozy Altidore has really hampered the American attack. But on the whole, Klinsmann has done a good job of working with what he has to gain passage to the next round. Now all we have to do is beat Belgium. — Nick Barton

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The US had to weather not only the pouring rainstorms in Recife but also the onslaught of German shots that threatened to knock the Yanks out of the tournament. Germany held 67 % of the possession, outshot the US 13-4, and completed 92 % of their passes compared to 82% for the Americans. In short, Germany probably should have won the game by more than one goal. But in all likelihood, we will not be seeing the Germans later in the tournament. So, now we move on to Belgium, a team full of very talented offensive players and one of the best goalkeepers in the world in Thibaut Courtois.

If you watched the late games on Thursday hoping to scout out the USMNT’s next opponent, bear in mind that they did not field a first-choice lineup (the Belgian player who received a red card on Thursday hadn’t played in the tournament before that game). There are questions about Belgium’s cohesion as a team (their individual talents do not always mesh well), but this is certainly a team to fear. Chelsea star Eden Hazard is a terror on the wing, and Marouane Fellaini’s afro is fearsome in its own right. However, now that we have entered the knockout stage, anything can happen. Win or go home. Whether that is in the normal 90 minutes, 30 minutes of extra time, or a dreaded penalty shootout, so be it. Belgium is a very strong opponent, and the US will need improved performances all over the field to go through to the quarterfinals. — Carl Yedor

Stats from the US-Germany match courtesy of whoscored.com

Images courtesy of kansascity.com, ESPN, New York Daily News, The Guardian

Follow Carl on Twitter: @CarlYedor61
Follow Matt on Twitter: @mjbell16
Follow Peter on Twitter: @peatebutterston
Follow Nick on Twitter: @TriniNick_James
Follow GSABR on Twitter: @GtownSports
Like GSABR on Facebook

 

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