Since newspaper headlines would never exaggerate such a thing, the United States 2-2 draw with Portugal in the World Cup on Sunday was officially a nationwide “heart-breaker.”
After having listened to the doomsday predictions of U.S. national coach Jurgen Klinsmann, it might seem a surprise that there’s been such coast-to-coast dismay over a draw with the talented Portugal team.
Didn’t he warn everybody that U.S. chances were grim?
Good thing his players didn’t listen to him.
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Surely not Seattle Sounders FC players Clint Dempsey, team captain, and apparently not DeAndre Yedlin, who responded to his first World Cup action with impressive late play against Portugal.
The win over Ghana in the group-stage opener, and the draw with Portugal, has set up the U.S. with a chance to advance to the Round of 16 with a win or tie in Thursday’s game against Germany.
To get four points in their first two games is probably better than expected, but relinquishing the 2-1 lead in the fifth minute of stoppage time left the team’s fans feeling as if they’d just been hijacked on the way to the celebration party.
It’s easy to explain the interest of American soccer fans, since the World Cup is starting to pick up an Olympics feel to it, as a quadrennial merging of patriotism and athleticism.
ESPN’s ratings for the first week of game broadcasts was up 26 percent from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
But it’s especially true in Seattle, because Dempsey, now known as Captain America or Captain Marvel with the national team, was brought in by the Sounders in an attempt to lift them to championship level.
Yedlin, meanwhile, is the home-grown talent who led O’Dea High to three state prep titles, and at a mere 20 years old, is the second-youngest player on the men’s national team.
Dempsey on Sunday scored his second goal in two games – his fourth in eight World Cup contests. He surely solidified his reputation as the prime force on the national team.
He proved himself a worthy team captain by not only playing big, but by playing tough. A rugged Texan, Dempsey kept playing through a broken nose (taking a shin to his face) in the opener against Ghana, despite having his nostrils jammed with cotton to stop the bleeding.
Although it reportedly caused trouble breathing during the week, Dempsey played 87 minutes against Portugal in 85-degree heat and 70-percent humidity.
His goal in the 81st minute put the U.S. up 2-1 and triggered the premature celebration among the fans.
Yedlin got on the pitch in the 72nd minute against Portugal and showed the world what Sounders fans have come to expect from him – world class speed. While most of the opponents had been tiring through the steamy evening, Yedlin appeared turbo-charged, with fresh legs.
His speed to the corner allowed him to collect a lead pass that he centered on Dempsey’s scoring play. After being tipped around in front of the goal, Dempsey finally knocked it home with his chest.
In the 95th minute, Portugal’s Silvestre Varela brought the score to a tie, although it felt to so many like a loss.
Recognizing the value of Yedlin’s speed, Klinsmann moved him up to right midfielder from the right-back position he generally plays with the Sounders.
It paid off at a time when the Portuguese were dragging.
Klinsmann gave him specific kudos afterward “… not only because he’s one of our biggest talents, a youngster coming through the ranks, but because he has the qualities to make an impact in a game right now, in this World Cup, which he did.”
Klinsmann capped his assessment of Yedlin with this: “It’s fun to watch that kid.”
Sounders fans could have told him that.