We all collectively groaned when the groups were announced for the initial stage of World Cup play.
The US group was immediately nicknamed "The Group of Death."
...and World Cup US killer Ghana.
Then Klinsmann decided that US soccer legend and World Cup hero, Landon Donovan, was not worthy of a spot on the 2014 US Men's National team about to compete in Brazil.
The boys from America played some "friendly's" to warm up for the World Cup. Despite winning all 3 matches, the back line would have been challenged to stop an attack from my son's 2nd grade soccer team.
We were pretty much resigned to a "three and out" for 2014's World Cup.
Then the schedule came out and a little hope was revived. The US would get Ghana first. The team that had knocked the US out of the last two World Cups would be no gimmie, but this was a winnable match. As everyone knows, starting with a win and 3 points plus some all important goal differential is huge. Takes away a little pressure for the second match and virtually guarantees that, worst case scenario, you will be playing for a chance to advance to the knockout round in match #3. Now match #3 would be against Germany, but Jerry Clower would have said they still had a "fightin chance."
Then the unthinkable happened.
Portugal came completely unraveled as Germany dismantled them 4-0. When John Brooks 86th minute header lifted the US to a gut-wrenching win over Ghana, the tables completely turned for the Americans' chances of advancing to the knockout round.
Unfortunately, however, even after the win the pressure is still squarely on the US because of the schedule which so kindly set them up in the first place.
All Klinsmann has to do is coax a draw out of his squad vs Portugal, a team now without two of its starting back line (red card & injury) and looking very vulnerable. The US too is without a star as Josy Altidore went down with a hamstring injury that will keep him out of at least the next match, and starting defender Matt Besler might also be a scratch due to the same issue. Regardless, a draw gets the US to 4 points and maintains the goal differential of 5 between the Americans (+1) and the Portuguese (-4). Why is that important?
Because the US next plays Germany to close out group play. That's not likely to be a win. Portugal gets Ghana, who will be done after losing to Germany and likely not very motivated. That looks like a win.
That would make it 4 points apiece for the US and Portugal with the first tiebreaker being goal differential. The US would need to lose and Portugal would need to win by a combined goal differential of 6 for the US to get booted (ex: Ger 3, US 0 and Port 3, Ghana 0). Crazier things have happened, but the odds would definitely favor the US. Ghana could be ripe for something like that, but Germany, who will easily advance, should have little motivation to thrash the US unless they want to stick it to Klinsmann. Who knows, but short of a clear win a draw would still put the US in a very strong position. I won't even go into the scenarios if the goal differential ended up a tie.
A loss would likely spell doom.
If Portugal wins they would be tied with the US. With the Portuguese facing a much easier opponent (Ghana) than the US faces (Germany) in the 3rd and final group match, the advantage would clearly go to Portugal.
The US will need to play much better and actually maintain possession for more than a couple of passes if they hope to have a puncher's chance Sunday evening.
We thought beating Ghana would exorcise the demons. Turns out the team that knocked the Americans out of the last two World Cups could still play a hand in eliminating the US.
An entire nation will be watching Sunday, June 22 at 6pm Eastern.