Three Points: Heartbreak for U.S.
MANAUS, Brazil -- Three quick points about Portugal and the United States' draw in the teams' second Group G match.
1. It's an absolute heartbreaker for the U.S.
No question it's a draw that feels like a loss for the U.S.
While the Americans got off to the worst possible start when Geoff Cameron's scuffed clearing attempt gifted Portugal the lead before the match was five minutes old, the way the Yanks battled back into the match -- and eventually went ahead on Clint Dempsey's goal in the 81st minute -- had Jurgen Klinsmann's team dreaming of advancing to the second round with one Group G match to spare. They were just 30 seconds away from doing it, too.
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Then reigning world player of the year Cristiano Ronaldo, who had been kept in check all night, got loose on the right side of the field and sent a perfect cross to the head of Silvestre Varela, who nodded the equalizer past a helpless Tim Howard. The look on the face of Howard and his forlorn teammates said it all. There's little doubt they'll take some solace from the way they played overall in the days to come, but the ending was about as cruel as they come.
2. A week ago, the Americans would've taken four points from two games
The Yanks head into Thursday's match against Germany (noon ET, ESPN) knowing that a tie will send both teams into the knockout stage, and the U.S. can even advance with a loss if Portugal and Ghana tie in game that will be played simultaneously. That's not a bad spot to be in. What's more, the Americans played an attractive brand of soccer against Portugal, and surely won a few new fans even if they couldn't win the game.
Dempsey's performance, in particular, was one for the ages, and Captain America -- who was inconsolable after the U.S. blew a two-goal lead and lost against Brazil in the Confederations Cup final in 2009, walking off the field in tears -- was stoic in the moments following Sunday's match, speaking about focusing on the positives, of which there were many.
Dempsey's leadership in what is sure to be a devastated locker room will go a long way toward ensuring the Yanks don't let lingering disappointment torpedo their still-very-real chances of moving on.
3. It's still a huge missed opportunity
Even if the U.S. finds a way to go through, it's hard to ignore how big beating Portugal on this stage would have been. This U.S. team had captured the country's imagination after its thrilling late win over Ghana, and a victory on Sunday would have sent the mainstream interest level through the roof. To come so agonizingly close to what would have been the biggest win in national team history makes it even tougher to swallow, especially since topping Group of Death actually seemed within reach until Varela's header settled into the back of Howard's net.
Klinsmann, who endured significant criticism leading into the tournament -- first for dropping Landon Donovan, then for having the audacity to suggest that the World Cup title was probably beyond the Americans' reach this time around -- was half a minute away from looking like a genius. Now, the coach goes back to the drawing board, with the toughest of the Yanks' three first-round foes up next.