The United States will be playing in the final 16 at the World Cup despite a 1-0 loss at the hands of Germany. Thanks to a solid victory over Ghana and a poor performance by Portugal in its first two games, the U.S had a way out of the Group of Death even with a loss in its last game. While the Portuguese tied the U.S. with four points in the standings, the Americans’ better goal differential (the difference between the total number of goals scored minus the total number given up) means the U.S. will move on as the second-place finisher in the group.
Germany was always going to be a tough game. Since East and West Germany reunited, the U.S. had played Germany nine times before this match. Germany won six of them, the U.S. three, and there were no draws. That said, this particular game with Germany revealed that the U.S. remains a second-tier squad despite years of development effort. The statistics speak volumes.
In the first half, Germany had possession of the ball 64 percent of the time, had six shots (three were on goal) and committed just three fouls. The U.S. obviously had possession just 36 percent of the time, two shots (none on goal) and committed seven fouls. The Germans had the ball even more in the second half, took another seven shots (one for a goal), and committed another six fouls. The U.S. managed just two shots in the half (none on goal, and none until the closing minutes), and committed eight more fouls.
“Outclassed” is the word that comes to mind. The first few minutes of the game, the American back continued to look like crap. Germany failed to finish on more than a couple chances or this thing would have been 4-0. Tim Howard (103rd appearance for the U.S., a new record) in goal for the U.S. helped, but as I have said before, when the goalkeeper gets the attention, your back line failed.
It is possible to win this kind of game when the other side has the possession advantage, but it requires a rapid and lethal counter-attack that the U.S. just doesn’t have. Whether it is a failure of communication between the midfielders and Clint Dempsey or whether it was just heavy legs caused by playing in the Manaus rainforest, I don’t know. What I do know is that Germany’s back four were all center backs. In soccer, those are the big hulking types, not the swift defenders on the wings. There should have been more crosses even with 35 percent possession against that kind of defense.
In the end, the U.S. had only five Germans on its roster, while Germany had 23. The American system of player development is crippled by the non-sense of college scholarships. Most other nations bring their players along in their youth programs, with professional teams reaching down to the schoolyards to find future stars. At the age of 20, German, English, French, Spanish and Italian players have been in a professional setting for more than a few years and are playing either for the club itself or the under-21 side. In the U.S., our guys are playing amateur soccer with a team that won’t be together more than a few months and going to classes at the same time. I am a firm believer in education, but let’s be honest, you don’t need a four-year degree to play professional anything, and when you lose your speed or your stamina, the university is likely to be there. Harvard was founded in 1636; it will probably still be there in 2036.
Fortunately for the U.S., this was not necessarily a do-or-die game. From here on, though, it’s like the NCAA basketball tournament — win or go home. There are no more draws. If the first 90 minutes end in a tie, the game goes another 30 minutes. And then the stupidest tie-breaking system this side of rocks, paper, scissors is used: five penalty kicks each.
The next game will be against Belgium, which won Group H. The last time the two met was in a friendly (a non-competitive match) in May 2013 in Cleveland, which went to Belgium 4-2. The bookies had Belgium at 20-1 to win the Cup while the U.S. was 80-1. Some of the difference had to do with the U.S. being in the Group of Death, but the consensus is that the Yanks are the underdogs.
I have to agree. Belgium was down to 10 men against South Korea yesterday in a match they didn’t need to win, and they still pushed their men forward to score and take their third game of three. I’m not sure America’s back four can stand up to that.
We’ll find out Tuesday; kick-off is 4 p.m. Eastern.
Jeff Myhre is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.