Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

USA vs. Portugal Poses Historic Challenge for Americans: Win Two in a Row

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

USA vs. Portugal Poses Historic Challenge for Americans: Win Two in a Row

Article excerpt

America's unexpectedly golden chance in this World Cup comes only for those with short memories.

If the United States can beat Portugal Sunday in the World Cup match set for 6 p.m. Eastern time in the Amazonian sauna of Manaus, Brazil, it can advance to the knockout stages with one game to spare. For a US team that was not favored to advance to the second round under any scenario, that would be quite an accomplishment.

Except, of course, it hasn't been accomplished yet.

And America's recent World Cup history is not for the squeamish.

The most memorable moments of America's World Cup history - at least since the USA began its run of seven-straight World Cup appearances in 1990 - have all come with America's backs to the wall.

Landon Donovan's 91st minute goal against Algeria in 2010, when the USA was seconds from being eliminated.

The Yanks' 2-0 win over Mexico in the round of 16 in 2002, beating their arch rival before a global audience.

The 2-1 "miracle on grass" victory over Colombia in 1994 that practically declared America's arrival as something more than soccer makeweights.

Dangle a must-win game in front of the Americans, and they attack it like 10 pounds of sirloin. Witness Game 1 of this World Cup against Ghana. Hardly Monet, but, in the end, money.

Sunday's game against Portugal is not like that. The USA can lose and still be in the thick of the race to qualify for the second round out of Group G. And when that position has forced the US to play tactically - measuring aggression with no small amount of caution - the results have not been good.

Take the 2002 World Cup, for example. The US came out with its chest hair flaming against (yes) Portugal in the opening match, stunning the team with (yes) arguably the world's best player in Luis Figo, 3-2. But then it had to make that win count.

Like now.

It followed with an unconvincing 1-1 draw against hosts South Korea (not a bad result) then fell to pieces against the unfancied Poles, losing 3-1. Had South Korea not scored a goal it didn't need to beat Portugal, 1-0, in its final group game, the US would have been out.

The story was mostly the same after the USA's improbable win over Colombia - the team Pele had picked to win the World Cup - in 1994. …

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