A casual observer might notice the general American attitude ahead of USA’s Round of 16 match versus Belgium has seemed a little negative. There’s no doubt the buzz was pretty mixed after the USA vs Portugal and USA vs Germany matches. Yes a bad mistake erased a brilliant chance to defeat Portugal. Yes the match versus Germany was technically a loss. But long time USMNT fans will know that these two matches were in fact huge successes and the great escape our boys pulled off advancing from the ‘Group of Death’ is probably the biggest moment for US soccer since Joe Gaetjens goal versus England in 1950.
So as a little exercise, let’s pretend the USA’s three group stage matches were played in reverse order, with the exact same results. Perhaps it’s a bit silly, but remember, this is the same end result either way, and the narrative is really what people get attached to.
Match 1: USA vs Germany – (Result: Germany 1, USA 0)
Knowing the USA has their toughest match right out of the gate at the Brazil World Cup, Klinsmann fields a surprisingly balanced team with a stout defense and defensive midfield but plenty of opportunities looking forward. However Germany proves a possessive monster controlling the ball 68% of the time. Even in the face of that imbalance, the USA looks quite respectable, only allowing one goal. The no shots on target turns out to be a slightly more worrisome statistic and soccer pundits wonder if the USA has the firepower to compete in the Group of Death.
Group G’s Other Result: Portugal 2, Ghana 1 – With little fanfare or surprise, Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo dispatches a lively Ghana, taking first place in the group ahead of their round 2 clash with the USA.
Group G Table – After 1 Match
Match 2: USA vs Portugal – (Result: USA 2, Portugal 2)
After facing a very tough Germany and coming away in last place in the group, a USA holding onto just a thread of optimism faces off against a first place Portugal and manages a very hard earned draw. In fact, the USA even lead a portion of the match and look to be heading towards victory until a stoppage time winner off a beautiful cross from Cristiano Ronaldo means the teams come away with a point each. While the USA fans are left with a sense of “what might have been,” it is obvious from the tenacity on display that the USA has a card or two up its sleeve. Yet as the US team moves on to the last match of the group stage still in last place, it looks like they are going to need a ton of help if they have any hope of advancing.
Group G’s Other Result: Germany 2, Ghana 2 – A resurgent Ghana is able to battle for a draw with a Germany side that shows a few weaknesses.
Group G Table – After 2 Matches
Match 3: USA vs Ghana – (Result: USA 2, Ghana 1)
The USA are in last place heading into their match with Ghana. They need a win and they need either Germany or Portugal to win and win big enough to create a major goal difference. It’s a long shot, but a first minute goal from Clint Dempsey spells good things. Ghana equalizes in the 82′ and things looks to be shaping up so Portugal will go through, even with their beat down happening at the hands of Germany. But then a 86′ goal by debutante John Brooks puts the USA in the lead and spells the most improbable group escape of the tournament. USA fans rejoice, John Brooks is canonized, America falls back in love with soccer (for at least a few weeks), and the USA moves on to face Belgium in the highest of spirits.
Group G’s Other Result: Germany 4, Portugal 0 – Heading into their final match simultaneous to the USA, all Portugal and Germany have to do is play to a draw and they are both through. That is not part of Germany’s plans. Germany comes out looking furious and beats Portugal to a pulp. The media howls that this beat down might have something to do with their deference to their countryman, American head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Joachim Loew simply says the Germans played the game they came to play, and move on to the Round of 16 looking dominant.
Group G Final Table
Wouldn’t that be more dramatic?