Cristiano Ronaldo blazed down the right side of the field and crossed into the box. Varela met the cross with his head. Tim Howard held his head in disbelief. The entire country gasped. The USMNT had been seconds away from advancing to the knockout stage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and one second of brilliance took that all away.
The 2-2 draw against Portugal will bring many memories to the forefront of every American player and fan’s mind. It is easy to think of Ronaldo’s cross first. It is easy to think of Geoff Cameron’s sloppy clearance first. It is easy to think of Nani poaching a goal off the helpless Howard first.
Those moments don’t define that match however. Those moments don’t define that American team. Those moments won’t define the World Cup for the Americans.
What moments will define this match and this team? Jermaine Jones scoring a “cracker” of a goal, as described by the one and only Ian Darke, will define this match. Clint Dempsey, having just scored the evident winner, limping off the field with a black eye and embracing his coach will define this match. Tim Howard scrapping to make a miraculous save from his knees will define this team. Michael Bradley leaving his awful performance against Ghana behind him and acting as a general in midfield defines this team. DeMarcus Beasley running up and down the pitch as though it was his first, not fourth, World Cup will define this team.
Varela’s stoppage time equalizer, the latest in a regulation World Cup match, sent a dagger through American hearts, but the US won this draw. The scoreline may have been level at the end of the match, but the Portugese were the ones that came out of this lucky to have a point.
After sloppily gifting Portugal the opening goal within five minutes, the Americans completely controlled the tempo of the match. Both Beasley and Fabian Johnson raced down the sidelines, providing an extra attacking force. The two fullbacks also corralled Ronaldo for the vast majority of the game. Bradley, Jones and Kyle Beckerman passed the ball with fluidity and ease, allowing Dempsey to be dangerous throughout the match. Bedoya and Zusi may not have had any excellent crosses, but they were heavily involved in the attacking third.
This American team was given no chance to advance from the group stage. No one believed they had the experience or talent to get a tough result. The Portugal match proved the exact opposite. A lesser team would have collapsed after conceding five minutes in. Not this team. This team took the match to Portugal and were mere seconds from advancing to the round of 16.
Instead of looking at the negatives or seeing Valera’s equalizer in your mind, remember this. We control our destiny in the group. A win or draw against Germany guarantee a place in the last 16. Even a loss can see the US advance. A Portugal-Ghana draw would see both of those teams eliminated. Portugal, with an atrocious four goal deficit in goal differential, winning the match could easily see the United States through.
Advancing was never supposed to be easy, but through every bit of adversity our team has been ready to overcome. One final match against a European powerhouse is a daunting task, but not an impossible one.
Forget about Varela’s equalizer. Forget about Nani’s stolen goal. Jurgen Klinsmann and his squad already have. They are focused on getting a result from Germany. Instead, they remember Jones and his fantastic strike. They remember Howard fighting every last chance to protect his goal. They remember Dempsey proving that he will be remembered as the greatest American player of all time after this tournament.
This team will not give up. This team will continue to fight until the end. This team will believe.
I believe that we will win.