RECIFE, Brazil – The game was gritty, ugly, wet, and when it was over, the United States punched its ticket to the second round with a 1-0 loss to Germany.
The rain beat down upon the Arena Pernambuco throughout the match, washing away any tactics coach Jurgen Klinsmann had from the outset. The U.S. withstood a furious German attack for much of the first half, eventually breaking in the 55th minute when Thomas Muller rocketed a shot past Tim Howard off a corner kick.
Having escaped the Group of Death, the U.S. looks to the second round, where it will likely face Belgium. Reaching the second round is a feat on its own, however the U.S. will have an uphill battle if it hopes to reach the quarterfinals.
1. Major League Soccer was put to the test.
Klinsmann decided the only thing better than starting five MLS players was starting seven MLS players. Brad Davis and Omar Gonzalez made their World Cup debuts in Thursday’s starting lineup. Davis took over for Alejandro Bedoya on the right flank, while Gonzalez came in for Geoff Cameron alongside fellow MLS’er Matt Besler.
Gonzalez stepped up to the challenge quickly, making a diving tackle to deny Thomas Muller an opportunity on Howard. Davis played his part as well, making his second-ever start for the national team.
The MLS core in midfield of Graham Zusi, Kyle Beckerman, and Michael Bradley withstood the intense pressure of Germany, and utterly frustrated Bastian Schweinsteiger. The German attack was threatening, but the U.S. resolved to bend, not break (completely) and was rewarded for the effort.
A key theme for this team has been resilience. It’s a mentality that’s inherent for MLS players, who are constantly labeled with the underdog moniker (at times by their own coach).
2. Michael Bradley reemerged.
Bradley had been under fire for his play in the first two matches of the tournament, receiving a lion’s share of the blame for the second Portugal goal. The engine of the U.S. midfield rose to the occasion against Germany, churning out a steady, necessary performance.
Bradley was cool on the ball when he needed to be, kept possession well and looked dangerous in the few times he was able to break free going forward. It wasn’t his best performance but it was closer to the display fans are used to seeing from the New Jersey native.
3. A torrential downpour washed away all tactics.
The city of Recife flooded in the early morning hours Thursday, and though the field fared better than the streets, the rain made it nearly impossible for either team to play with the same technical precision expected. Instead, the match was a scrappy affair with the best chances coming from the flanks, rather than through midfield.
Thomas Muller struggled to find opportunities in behind the U.S. backline, and Lukas Podolski and Mesut Ozil were forced to receive the ball in wide spaces frequently, and were unable to break down the backline in the run of play.
Like the previous two matches there are positives to be taken from Thursday’s loss. The U.S. was able to withstand one of the best offenses at the World Cup in the run of play, conceding off a single set piece. The limited opportunities that the Americans had going forward looked dangerous, though both of Graham Zusi’s set pieces were poor.
Moving forward, a loss or draw won’t suffice and the pressure felt Thursday will only increase in the knockout stages. Tactically, the U.S. is not built to defend for long stretches. Though nature and standings dictated the need to play conservatively against Germany, the U.S. is at its most effective in an open match where it can get forward.