I didn’t have a solid match recap after the USMNT-Portugal fixture. I was emotionally gut-punched and not really in a mood to delve deep into the game. Luckily a solid soccer writer from across the pond took an objective view of the game, and our boy DeAndre Yedlin got a glowing review:
Yedlin was one of the squad selections some commentators thought might be more about 2018 (and yes, the as-yet-unused Julian Green belongs in this category), but what was key about his introduction was that it was not as a young player brought in for fresh legs and a competent body to gain experience in an already determined game. He was thrown in at 1-1, in the belief he could influence the attack.
The verve with which he did so was Yedlin’s own of course, but even those who sneer at Klinsmann’s tactical nous acknowledge that the man knows how to motivate. The young players he has brought through, and even some of the older fringe players in whom he has demonstrated trust, are arriving on the field primed with self-belief. It’s a self-belief that’s mirrored by the coach’s own and it’s nothing new. But more than the squad are listening now.
Graham Parker of the Guardian was also much more forgiving of Michael Bradley’s performance, while I am firmly in the “he’s stunk for two games” camp:
Bradley’s direct influence waned after half-time, but still to the USA’s advantage. William, unlucky not to start as defensive midfielder, but missing out on Portugal coach Paulo Bento’s preference for experience over youth, was introduced to counter the threat of Bradley. While he didn’t man-mark him it was a pro-active decision from the Portuguese, for whom Bradley’s name will have been high on every scouting report.
Bradley is still not having the degree of influence he might have been expected to have, and he lost the ball in the lead-up to Portugal’s equaliser (finding few options from his equally tired team-mates when he was caught in possession), but his presence and the need for opposing coaches to address it is creating time and space for others.
Parker’s last major point is about the toll of playing in the Amazonia hothouse of Manaus. If you are a USMNT fan and hoping for a result against Germany, this analysis is frightening:
As England limped out of the World Cup against Uruguay, then Italy drifted listlessly to defeat against Costa Rica, it was hard not to see their sapping opening fixture in Manaus as an extra man for their next opponents.
With the US having had to chase a game in the jungle for the best part of an hour, and with Portugal stricken by injuries, it is equally hard to imagine that the extra day’s rest Ghana and Germany will have before the final Group G games, coupled with a much more benign location and travel time for their second-round encounter, will not play a part in determining the outcome of the group.
I am scared, I’ll admit it. Maybe as a lifelong Philly fan, I am conditioned to pessimism. I look back at that Portugal game, up a goal with 30 seconds left… those are the games that come back and bite, like a zombie. In seven game baseball series or Settlers of Catan, letting an opponent hang around is always a bad idea. Always kill the wounded animal. Yes we still control our own destiny (to truck in sports clichés), but we blew the chance to eliminate a variable. On Thursday we really need the Stars and Stripes to dig deep and earn that result.