KENYA BROWN - Sunday, June 29, 2014
On the heels of a loss, sometimes you can take solace by stepping back and looking at what the big picture shows.
Out shot, having very little possession of the ball and spending a majority of the time in their own end fending off wave after wave of German attacks, the United States national team was able to hold on to earn their place in the knockout stage of the World Cup after a 1-0 defeat to Germany in Recife.
While it may not have been the result that head coach Jurgen Klinsmann wanted as he talked ahead of the game about playing to win, he has to be proud of how this team was able to grind it out for 90 minutes as they faced a strong German side with only a few days to recover from their excursion to middle of the rainforest in Manaus.
This game was not going to be about winning, it was going to be about surviving.
After playing two grueling games against Ghana and Portugal - and with their chances of advancing out of the "Group of Death" still in the balance - this group of extremely tired players would have to use whatever energy they had left in them to survive. And survive they did with a couple of chances to even tie the game towards the end.
There was concern that the game may have not been played as torrential rains had battered Recife since Wednesday, which led to flooding in areas near the Pernambuco Arena. A postponement of the game would have just made things more nerve-wracking for U.S. fans in Brazil and in other parts of the world, but fortunately the all clear was given and it was game on.
Another concern was the conspiracy theory about whether both teams would come out onto the field and play to a draw ala the infamous 1982 World Cup game between then West Germany and Austria- known as the "Disgrace of Gijon." However, that theory was nixed when Die NationalMannschaft made their intentions known early on that they planned on taking the game to the U.S. team.
Klinsmann made two changes to the lineup, with Omar Gonzalez replacing Geoff Cameron in the center of the defense - a move Klinsmann said was done to give the Stoke City man a break- and Brad Davis starting in the place of Alejandro Bedoya in midfield.
The move to put Gonzalez in the starting lineup turned out to be a good one as the Los Angeles Galaxy player put in a stellar performance. While he started off shaking in the early stages of the game - whiffing at a crossed ball in the box - he settled down afterwards and proved vital in making some key stops to thwart some of Germany's attacking chances.
The 25-year-old, who had actually lost his starting job after poor play in previous games leading up to the World Cup, looks to have earned his way into the starting lineup for the United States' second round game against Belgium.
When the U.S. backline could not stop the Germans from breaking through goalkeeper Tim Howard was there to make the saves to prevent an even larger lead. On a slick field where just the right strike of the ball could skip by or slip through the hands of even the best of goalkeepers, the U.S. number one maintained his composure to keep them in the game.
One could question whether the United States could have done a better job to handle the German corner kick in the 55th minute, in which Howard made a big save on a header from defender Per Mertesacker only for midfielder Thomas Muller to fire back in for the only goal of the game, but it would be bad to dwell on what could have been when this team should be lauded for their efforts.
Down 1-0 in the game, the United States knew its strategy now was to not let the game get out of hand as over in Brasilia Portugal and Ghana were level after Asamoah Gyan scored to put the Black Stars back in the game.
The players continued to fight for each other, absorbing constant attacks from Germany and holding their own despite looking exhausted.
While the United States did not have many chances offensively the last few minutes of the game did bring a glimmer of hope that this team would somehow find the equalizer as Bedoya, who came on as a substitute, forced captain Philipp Lahm to stretch out and block a shot that was certainly going to challenge goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. Captain Clint Dempsey followed up with his own chance on goal when a header just went over the bar.
Again, with little left in the tank and being outplayed for long stretches in the game, the Americans showed once again that they were not going to just concede the game despite being behind.
At the final whistle and with Portugal having won the game 2-1 over a turbulent Ghana side, the United States could finally breathe as qualification for the second round was guaranteed.
Some of the best teams in the world have been victims in the "Group of Death" in previous World Cups, but the United States - predicted to not come out of the group by many analysts - proved their doubters wrong by showing true grit to get to the knockout stage. It was not an easy feat - and the team knows they must improve going into their next game - but when has any U.S. team that has participated in the tournament ever made it look easy?
It has been truly a team effort by this group of 23 players along with the support of American fans in Brazil as well those in other parts of world. Now the work will begin on preparing for Belgium which finished top in Group H.
While it will certainly not be an easy game, the boys will be ready and they will take lessons from what they went through in Group G to hopefully continue their run in Brazil.