The United States advanced to the knockout rounds of the World Cup despite losing 1-0 to Germany in rain soaked Recife, Thursday afternoon.
With the streets of the Brazilian city awash in waist deep flood waters, somehow the field at Arena Pernambuco was kept in reasonable shape.
U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann made two changes to the side that tied with Portugal on Sunday, one worked and the other did not. Omar Gonzalez replaced Geoff Cameron, whose error gifted Portugal an early 1-0 lead, while Alejandro Bedoya gave way at left midfield for Brad Davis.
After getting away with an early gaffe that could have been trouble for the U.S., Gonzalez settled down to play an excellent game. Davis, though, looked out of his depth defensively and was unable to deliver one of the crosses, or set pieces, that are his reason for being on this roster.
Despite the excellent drainage the field did play heavy and the ball travelled slowly across the sodden pitch. Germany were the much brighter team from the beginning, essentially playing keep away for most of the first 20 minutes.
Tim Howard was alert and sure handed despite the wet ball, and he had to be. The American defense was allowing itself to be backed into its own 18 yard box, as the Germans passed the ball around with little resistance.
The U.S. finally earned a crust of possession after 19 minutes resulting in a DaMarcus Beasley shot, but the ball was well off target. Graham Zusi came closer in the 22nd minute, and after a good series of passes, the wingers shot carried just high.
The United States came into the match knowing that if they could earn even a draw against the Germans, passage to the knockout rounds would be assured. So when the short whistle blew and the rain soaked Yanks retreated to the dry warmth of their dressing room, they had to be relieved.
Portugal were leading Ghana at the half too, and if those results stood the Americans knew that they would advance. Klinsmann stayed with his 11 on the restart, but the pattern of the game was unchanged with Germany continuing to dominate play.
Germany finally broke through, as it seemed they must, with Thomas Muller the goal scorer. The sequence began when Michael Bradley committed a foolish foul in the 53rd minute. It was another poor play from Bradley, who has mysteriously failed to provide what his team has expected and needed from him in this World Cup. Following the free kick Germany won a corner. Howard saved from Per Meterserker’s header, but the long rebound fell to Muller, who rarely misses the target in World Cup play.
After the Portugal match Klinsmann complained that FIFA had set things up to the advantage of the “big” teams, like Germany. Klinsmann cited the amount of miles the U.S, had to travel, and was unhappy that his team played on Saturday, in the Amazon, giving Germany an extra day of rest.
The coach backed off of those charges after this game, but his team did look heavy legged, as the Americans became the fifth team to lose their next match after playing in Manaus. No team has won after Manaus.
Klinsmann eventually went to the bench and had Bedoya replace Davis, undoing his pre-match switch. Bedoya added some freshness and had a late shot spectacularly blocked by Lahm, when it looked like the Nantes man was about to tie the match.
Bedoya was also involved in a nasty head to head collision with teammate Jermaine Jones that caused the game to be held up in the 74th minute. Both men continued, and appeared to be fine, but it was a scary moment for the Yanks.
Scary, primarily because the U.S. cannot afford to lose Jones, who has been the most consistently good American player in this tournament.
The Americans did just about enough to keep the Germans from adding a second goal, and with word that Ghana has tied Portugal 1-1, a second German goal could have sent the U.S. home.
Howard remained sharp and he received solid protection with Besler, Gonzalez and Beasley leading the defense. The Yanks made a late rush, with sub DeAndre Yedlin providing the impetus for the second match in a row.
Word arrived late to Recife that Cristiano Ronaldo had done the U.S. a good turn by doubling Portugal’s lead, and when the final whistle came a relieved U.S. MNT knew that they had done enough.
Next up for the Americans is a Tuesday afternoon date with the Group H winner, likely Belgium, at 4:00 in the Arena Fonte Nova, in Salvador. The U.S. will have four days to recuperate from the grueling group stages, and will hope that Jozy Altidore can heal up enough to provide Clint Dempsey with some help up front.
With today’s results Germany qualify at the top of Group G with 7 points and the U.S. finish second with 4 points, the same as Portugal. The U.S. advance thanks to a superior goal difference to Portugal. Ghana finish last with 1 point.