U.S. must move on from late stumble
MANAUS, Brazil -- It's not often that Jurgen Klinsmann's relentlessly upbeat persona shows a crack or two. But it could certainly be seen in the aftermath of the U.S. national team's 2-2 draw with Portugal on Sunday.
Instead of clinching spot in the knockout rounds, the U.S. now needs to get a result against Germany in order to guarantee passage to the second stage. If the U.S. loses against Germany, it runs the risk of losing out to either Ghana or Portugal on goal difference.
In a postgame interview immediately after the match, Klinsmann showed a bit of frustration in highlighting how Germany has all the advantages heading into the group finale in Recife on June 26.
"[Germany], they played yesterday, we played today," he said. "We played in the Amazon, they played in a location where they don't have to travel much. Everything was done for the big favorites. We're going to do it the tough way."
Perhaps Klinsmann simply needed to vent some of the raw emotion that was left over from watching Varela's stoppage time equalizer turn an apparent 2-1 victory into a disappointing 2-2 draw. That was the assessment of U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Guati in the postmatch mixed zone. But it's certainly not Klinsmann's style to play up any possible excuses, even if his observations are correct.
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As for the players, the perceived advantages that Germany has isn't something they're thinking about.
"As players, we don't have a choice," defender Matt Besler said. "We're not complaining. People can talk about the draw, they can talk about the travel, they can talk about the venues. For us, we just play. We don't have a choice about any of that. We try to look at things in the best way possible and use that to our advantage."
Goalkeeper Tim Howard added, "It's not something we can really focus on, because that would take away from what we feel is a job we have to do. ... Whether they have an advantage or not, it's not something we can use as an excuse."
Klinsmann will certainly need to accentuate the positive in the coming days, lest the disappointment of Sunday's result bleed into the team's preparations for the Germany match. And the U.S. manager was certainly back on message during his postgame news conference.
With regard to the team's ability to recover psychologically, he said, "It's not very difficult because I think the team is showing amazing progress throughout the last couple of weeks. So we build on everything that we've worked on for the last four or five weeks, and we see the quality and the results coming through that building process. So the way that we controlled most of the game today against a very strong Portuguese side is telling you how far we've made it already."
The question of whether Klinsmann and Germany manager Joachim Low, who served as Klinsmann's assistant when he was in charge of Germany, might collude to have the match end in a mutually beneficial draw lingers however. That scenario would see both teams finish the group stage with five points making it impossible for either Ghana or Portugal to catch either one of them.
This is something that Germany has a bit of history with. Back in 1982, then-West Germany and Austria played out a 1-1 tie that saw them both progress at the expense of Algeria. Klinsmann was asked what he would say to Loew if his former assistant called him up and offered up what one journalist called a "peaceful draw." Klinsmann denied any such conversation or arrangement would take place.
"There will be no call," he said. "Jogi is doing his job. We're good friends. I'm doing my job. ... There is no time right now to mention draws. This is about business now."
Cynics will no doubt think otherwise, but past history suggests that the U.S. will go all out. Back during qualifying for the 2010 World Cup, the U.S. scored a stoppage time equalizer that knocked Costa Rica out of an automatic qualifying spot and ultimately into a playoff against Uruguay that the Ticos lost. Four years later, the U.S. scored twice late against Panama to push the Canaleros out of fourth place and ultimately gift Mexico a spot in the World Cup.
The final match day of the group stage will reveal all. The U.S. will just be hoping that ends with a spot in the second round, and the bitter taste of Sunday's result is washed away.