Fighting spirit defines the U.S. style
Shortly after the U.S. lost to Germany in the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup, Bruce Arena's squad sat on the team bus, beers in hand, singing along as the sounds of a Frank Sinatra classic filled the air.
"There were times, I'm sure you knew,
When I bit off more than I could chew,
But through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up and spit it out,
I faced it all, and I stood tall,
And did it my way."
The U.S. has done it the hard way since that day in Ulsan, South Korea. Sunday's 2-2 roller coaster against Portugal is just the latest example.
Will the U.S. ever just play a simple match at a World Cup? Does it always have to go right until the dying seconds? You might have to go all the way back to the game after that narrow loss to Die Mannschaft -- the 2006 opener against the Czech Republic -- to find the last not-epic game the U.S. played at the planet's biggest sporting event.
There was the unlikely 1-1 tie with eventual champion Italy in Germany following that 3-0 loss to the Czechs -- a match the U.S. finished with nine men. There was the one-goal defeat by Ghana in the final group game at that tournament, in which the U.S. went behind on Claudio Reyna's uncharacteristic gaffe, equalized via a relentless young buck named Clint Dempsey and ultimately succumbed to the Black Stars after a phantom penalty call.
In 2010, the U.S. gave England and Slovenia early leads in the group stage, battling back to tie each match, and was just seconds from elimination against Algeria when Landon Donovan's stoppage-time winner miraculously sent it into the second round. The U.S. lost to Ghana in extra time in the round of 16, but only after first coming back to level following an early goal conceded just minutes in.
This tournament has brought more of the same. In two U.S. games in Brazil so far, there have been seven (seven!) lead changes.
Watching this team is exhausting, even for non-U.S. fans. No question about it; they are the cardiac kids.
"We're going to do it the tough way," Jurgen Klinsmann said in the aftermath of Sunday's match. He was speaking about Thursday's Group G finale against Germany in Recife (noon ET, ESPN, WatchESPN and ESPNFC.com) where the Americans now need a point to guarantee their passage to knockout stage, but it might as well be his team's mantra. Not surprisingly, the coach insisted that his squad will not go into its next match looking for the tie that would send both teams through.
"I don't think we are made for draws, except if it happens like tonight -- a late goal in the last seconds," the coach said.
- Carlisle: U.S. must move on from late stumble
- Torre: Ronaldo neutralized until final moments
- Carlisle: United States player grades
- Tactics: Fabian Johnson vs. Cristiano Ronaldo
- Group G qualifying scenarios
- Germany vs. United States, Thursday, noon ET, ESPN
Klinsmann often talks about how national teams are a reflection on the culture that produces them, and few would argue that a never-say-die attitude has long since been adopted as an American trait. This fighting spirit is what has endeared the U.S. team to its fans over the years. It's what allowed a bunch of college kids who had no business qualifying for the 1990 World Cup to achieve that preposterous goal. It's what sent an MLS-heavy squad to the brink of the semifinals in 2002. In short, it has enabled the U.S. team to consistently be greater than the sum of its parts, to punch above its weight at the highest level for a quarter century.
So if history is any indication, there will be more drama to come this week. The U.S. simply knows no other way.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.