German test awaits Team USA after Portugal drama

Willie Grace | 6/23/2014, 3:29 p.m. | Updated on 6/23/2014, 3:29 p.m.
The U.S. team took to the field for its clash against Portugal with these words inscribed on its jersey patches: ...

The U.S. team took to the field for its clash against Portugal with these words inscribed on its jersey patches:

"The American will to win is stronger than any opponent in your way."

For 94 minutes on Sunday, they persevered. They were down, then they equalized, then they led.

But, with mere seconds to go, Team USA's dogged determination was torpedoed by a header from Silvestre Varela.

What seemed like a sure win ended in a disappointing 2-2 draw.

"A draw is just blah," U.S. goalie Tim Howard said.

Now, the U.S. team will have to find steelier resolve for its next contest, against soccer powerhouse Germany on Thursday.

A lot rides on that game, if the U.S. wants to advance to the next round.

But before we get to that, let's look back at the drama and emotion of Sunday's spectacle.

Cheers, then silence

From Arkansas to Alaska, American fans had flocked to Brazil. Some made it all the way to the jungle heat of Manaus where the game took place; others joined a crowd of about 20,000 people gathered in front of a big screen in Rio de Janeiro, chanting their belief in an American victory.

Back at home, bars and streets were packed with people -- an unusual sight in a country that is ordinarily indifferent to soccer.

"What's for dinner? Portugal," an oft-repeated joke went.

Portugal netted the ball first. If one were to go by history, that would have been disastrous. In 20 games, the U.S. has never recovered when the opposing team scored the first goal.

But then, Jermaine Jones thumped in a stunning long-range shot to bring the score to 1-1. The noise was deafening.

And when Clint Dempsey put the United States ahead 2-1, cheers erupted even on a flight from Los Angeles to New York.

All the U.S. had to do next was bide time -- keep possession of the ball, keep an increasingly desperate Portugal at bay.

They did -- until the end of the game and for four of the five minutes of stoppage time.

But Varela's crushing late equalizer -- headed in from a pinpoint cross by Portugal's talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo -- stunned the U.S. supporters.

But shock soon turned to grudging satisfaction.

A tie isn't as bad as a defeat.

After all, Portugal is ranked No. 4 in the world; the U.S. No. 13.

A tie also gives another point for the U.S., moving it closer to qualifying for the knockout stages.

'You have to move on'

The team captain certainly wasn't dwelling on the Portugal game's cruel finale.

"You're disappointed not to get three points but at the same time you have to take the positives from the game," Dempsey said.

The team now has its sights set firmly on Germany.

That confrontation is an intriguing one for U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who played for the German team that won the World Cup in 1990. But he didn't show any conflicted loyalties in his comments Sunday.