For the last 15 minutes, the United States had more in the tank than Portugal did.
Jürgen Klinsmann sent in 20-year-old DeAndre Yeldin, to provide fresh legs, just as the astute Taylor Twellman in the ESPN booth had suggested he should, and the youngster moved the ball to set up Clint Dempsey’s go-ahead goal.
In the closing seconds of stoppage time, the legs – and the minds – deserted them. The ball squirted loose from Michael Bradley and the defenders could not keep the ball away from Cristiano Ronaldo on the flank. But any one of three defenders – somebody, pick a number – could have shut down Varela, the only red jersey heading to the box. Three large defenders, three spectators, one header, and Portugal drew the USA, 2-2.
For the second straight game, Klinsmann made a great late substitution – John Brooks for the game-winning header against Ghana, Yeldin for the time-killing and aggressive move against Portugal.
But the USA did not win, and now the players will have to live with it on a brutal ride back to their base before Thursday’s match against a more rested Germany. Any talk of a potential waltz between Germany’s Joachim Löw and the USA’s Klinsmann, good friends and colleagues, will have to wait.
For now there is only the hangover feeling of a superb rally and a last-second giveaway. But before that, there was the superb dribble and hooking shot by Jermaine Jones that got inside the post. I love his swagger and his shoulders, and seeing him blast that goal was like watching Charles Oakley, the old New York Knicks enforcer, dunk from the foul line. Not supposed to happen, but it did.
One more thought: this is a great World Cup, isn’t it?
Welcome to World Cup 2022, the most absurd thing that the routinely absurd world of sports has ever produced.
Those extreme descriptions were what virtually the entire world, save for those who had walked off with bags of cash from Qatar, called the awarding of soccer’s greatest event to the incredibly tiny, incredibly wealthy country back in 2010.
Twelve years ago, many were convinced this event couldn’t possibly happen: staging the world’s biggest sporting event in a country the size of Connecticut, one with zero soccer culture and even less soccer infrastructure? The tournament couldn’t possibly take place in 120-degree heat, and FIFA, the governing body of soccer, most certainly wouldn’t upend football leagues around the world to change the traditional summer schedule, could it?
And, for God’s sake, what about the beer?
Those were just the logistical concerns. The moral concerns are far more distressing. FIFA, so busy paying lip service to equality, couldn’t possibly expect the world to embrace a country where you could go to prison for being gay, where women’s rights are severely curtailed and female victims of sexual assault could go to prison, charged with engaging in extramarital sex. And all those questions came before the global realization that the World Cup was being built on the backs of migrant labor: modern-day slaves held in Qatar with virtually no rights, low wages and no ability to leave. Migrants make up 90% of Qatar’s stated population of 3 million. The country’s native-born equal about 300,000, or roughly the size of Anaheim.
---Ann Killion, columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.