Kick Off: US national team's heartbreaking draw, Mexico's big chance, Costa Rica's Cinderella story
Here are the top 15 soccer stories we’re following today:
1. HEARTBREAK & HOPE FOR USMNT
The US national team came within 25 seconds of an amazing comeback victory over Portugal, which would've secured their place in the knockout stage of the World Cup. But it wasn’t to be, as Portugal scored in the 95th minute to level the score at 2-2. They still have a good chane of advancing, but was a gut punch, as the Americans did everything right to neutralize Cristiano Ronaldo for 94 minutes. But his immaculate cross on the equalizer exposed the USMNT's Achilles' heel, according to MLSsoccer.com's Matt Doyle.
2. WHO PERFORMED WELL? WHO DIDN'T?
The postgame analysis started immediately. Here's a full breakdown on MLSsoccer.com's postgame show with ex-USMNT assistant coach Jesse Marsch. And everyone had player ratings, including MLSsoccer.com, WorldSoccerTalk and Bleacher Report. Toronto FC star Michael Bradley came in for criticism, but he faced it head on. "Unfortunately, [I] wasn't able to make a good enough play," he admitted.
3. STILL ALIVE
The USMNT remains in 2nd place in Group G heading into their third and final group-stage match against Germany, Thursday at noon ET. Portugal will take on Ghana at the exact same time. Here are the scenarios for advancement for the USA.
— Devin Pleuler (@devinpleuler) June 23, 2014
4. GERMANY ARE NOT INVICIBLE
The US now have three days to recover from the Portugal game, a situation that had Jurgen Klinsmann questioning FIFA's schedulers. Why? Because Germany have an extra day of rest. They played on Saturday, when they were shocked by African side Ghana in a scintillating 2-2 draw. Longtime German star Miroslav Klose scored the late equalizer, his 15th World Cup goal, tying him with Brazilian legend Ronaldo for most ever.
5. GHANA MATCH-FIXING CLAIMS AHEAD OF PORTUGAL MATCH
The other two sides in the group, Portugal and Ghana, meanwhile, are dealing with very different issues. Portugal must try to recover from the US draw, and wonder why Cristiano Ronaldo has admittd that his side is "maybe an average team." Worse than that, Ghana are reacting to a report in the London Telegraph that connects the Black Stars to a potential match-fixing scandal.
6. MEXICO SET FOR DECIDER
El Tri go into their final group game against Croatia (4 pm ET, ESPN, Univision, CBC) with their fate firmly in their own hands. A draw against the improving Croats will see them through to the knockout round, but who and what will determine the outcome? If they do make it through, it is only thanks to the US, Jurgen Klinsmann reminded everyone on Sunday.
7. ERRING REF DISMISSED
The World Cup is a high pressure environment in which just one or two mistakes can be the difference between moving on or going home. Not just for the players, but also the officials. The Colombian linesman who twice negated good goals for Mexico due to incorrect offside decisions has been sent home.
8. COSTA RICAN DARLINGS
CONCACAF minnows Costa Rica have become the darlings of the 2014 World Cup after they defeated Italy and Uruguay to secure a spot in the round of 16. But is their Cinderella run being questioned as too implausible? After Costa Rica's win over Italy, FIFA ordered seven Ticos to take drugs tests, but only two Italians. This sparked a letter from the Costa Rican federation, a fiery reaction from Diego Maradona, and a brilliant challenge from head coach Jorge Luis Pinto: "If they want in the next match, they can test all 11 playes and even me."
With three of the four CONCACAF teams performing admirably at the World Cup so far – Honduras have definitely struggled – many American fans find themselves cheering on our usual rivals. Why is this? Well, while part of it could be the desire to earn an extra spot at the World Cup, the simple answer is that, well, this is CONCACAF. Respect!
10. MLS RETURNS ON WEDNESDAY
Major League Soccer's two-week World Cup break comes to an end this Wednesday, when the Vancouver Whitecaps host their Canadian rivals, the Montreal Impact. The Impact will not have midfielder Hernan Bernadello, who announced himself that he has agreed to join Mexican side Cruz Azul.
11. TIMBERS TARGETS
Ahead of Tuesday's US Open Cup round of 16 match with Sporting KC, Portland Timbers forward Fanendo Adi appears on the verge of signing with the club on a long-term basis. However, another of the Timbers' rumored targets will definitely not be joining the club.
12. OBAFEMI MARTINS MANOEUVERS
Despite reports to the contrary last week, Obafemi Martins' agent has announced that the Seattle Sounders forward has not been in talks with any Turkish clubs. If anything, these latest rumors could actually suggest that Martins wants to stay in the Emerald City for awhile.
13. THINGS KEEP GOING RIGHT IN ORLANDO
While Orlando City fans wait in hopeful anticipaton that their club can conclude their “advanced talks” with Brazilian star Kaká, there was more good news for the new MLS franchise as a bill signed on Friday should offer some financial aid to their new stadium.
14. SOCCER DIPLOMACY
There are no shortage of world leaders making appearances at the World Cup. Does knowing about soccer help make international relations easier? US Secretary of State John Kerry certainly thinks so.
15. JOHN BROOKS MAKES FAN'S DREAM EVEN BETTER
For 17-year-old cancer survivor Hannah Smith, a trip to Brazil was just the beginning of one of the most memorable nights of her life.
Get the Kick-Off delivered to you!
Enter your email address and favorite team below to sign up for The Kick-Off mailing list and get it delivered to your inbox every morning.