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In Cleveland, hope dies last

USMNT content to do things the hard way

usa loses to portugalIt’s been almost 24 hours and we’re still trying to accept what happened in the final 30 seconds of the USA’s game with Portugal on Sunday night.

To come so close to qualifying for the knockout stage with one game to play only to see it all fall apart at the very end would be difficult for any team to overcome. The good news is that the U.S. doesn’t have to wait very long for their next match and this team, more than others, is a resilient bunch. They came back after giving up an early lead to Ghana, and then did it again on Sunday after falling behind Portugal just five minutes into the game.

“That’s who we are,” midfielder Michael Bradley said. “We talk all the time about what we’re like on the hardest day and when the spotlight comes on brightest. When the biggest tests come, what are we like? How do we respond in the difficult moments? I thought tonight was another example of us showing everybody who we are and what makes us a good team.

“When you look back at the history of this team, it’s a team that steps on the field every day to win. Whether it was Costa Rica at RFK Stadium in 2009 when we were already qualified for the World Cup or whether it was last year in Panama. It’s a team that takes great pride in stepping on the field and playing the right way and representing ourselves and our country in a positive way. It’s important now to recover. We put so much into this game and on a physical level it’ll take a day or two to get ourselves ready and we’ll step on the field looking to win the game and looking to win the group.”

The U.S. can also take away the fact that for all but a couple of minutes, they were clearly the better team than Portugal. That wasn’t always the case in their opening game against Ghana, but it was on Sunday. Play like that on Thursday and the team should be on its way to the next round.

But there is one thing that came up on Sunday that, to us, highlights why the U.S. is a very good, but not great team. When the opposition makes a mistake, the U.S. will sometimes capitalize on it. But it seems like every time the U.S. makes a mistake, the other team makes them pay – both of Portugal’s goals were set up by misplays from a U.S. defender.

The U.S. was able to get away without too much damage in the first two games, but if they make too many mistakes on Thursday, Germany is going to make them pay and that may spell the end for the U.S.

Working in their favor is that both the U.S. and Germany only need to walk out of Thursday’s game with a draw to ensure that they both advance. (The U.S. will also advance if Ghana and Portugal play to a draw.) While it would be nice to think that German coach Joachim Low would do a solid for his former coach and a player that led Germany to World Cup title, but that’s not going to happen. (And where would the fun be if it did?)

“I think both [the USA and Germany] want to win the group,” Klinsmann said. “We want to go into this game, recover fast and go at Germany, get three points and have seven points on our side and be in the driver’s seat for the Round of 16. Our goal is to go to the next round, so we will do everything in our capabilities to go into the next round. I’m not thinking about what goes on in other peoples’ minds and situations. It’s about what’s important to us, so we’re going to take our game to Germany and give everything we have, give them a real fight. I think if you see that team from tonight, how they can do that, then are capable of surprising even more teams in this tournament.”

The USA was 30 seconds from keeping the dream alive Sunday night. They get another chance on Thursday.

And while it is unlikely that they will be eliminated, with the unpredictable way things have gone so far, no one will feel safe until the final whistle blows and we all know the U.S. has earned a date with Belgium, Algeria or Russia.

“I think the spirit is very good. We are full of confidence,” Klinsmann said. “We make it a little bit more difficult with the next game to play to qualify, but we knew from the beginning that it was going to be a tough group to go through. We are right there; we have one foot in the door. We just have to take the second foot in there and get it done.”

“No one cares about soccer”

Sunday’s game between the U.S. and Portugal was seen by almost 25 million viewers.

That’s more viewers than watched the NBA Finals, the World Series or the NHL Finals.

ESPN reported an audience of 18.2 million – making it the most-watched soccer game on American television – while another 6.5 million watched the game on Univision. And those numbers don’t even include the number of people who watched at bars or outdoor viewing parties, like the estimated 20,000 in Chicago’s Grant Park.

For comparison, the NBA Finals averaged 15.5 million viewers this year, the World Series averaged 14.9 million and the NHL Finals were at 5 million.

But, yeah, keep talking about how “no one cares” about soccer in America.

Filling out the bracket

Four more teams made it through to the knockout stage on Monday, as both Group A and Group B wrapped up group play and set up some very interesting match ups.

As the Group A winner, Brazil will now face Chile, while the Netherlands will take on Mexico, which joined Costa Rica on the CONCACAF train after beating Croatia.

(Photo by The Associated Press)

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