The US national team rode the World Cup roller coaster in a 2-2 draw with Portugal on Sunday night, in a performance notable for plenty of solid play and a couple of huge breakdowns.
Many of the Yanks will leave the contest smiling over their report card, with Jermaine Jones, Clint Dempsey and Matt Besler leading the parade of excellence. However, Jurgen Klinsmann's tidiest game plan to date momentarily went out the window both early and late, and the mistakes cost the team early advancement to the knockouts when it was mere seconds away.
Even so, the overall rumble-in-the-jungle performance was one to remember, and one that has the US in a good position to survive this "Group of Death" heading into their toughest task of all.
Tim Howard (7.5) - Though it was not a perfect night for the US netminder, his saves while the team was trailing helped change the game. The reflex-on-the move-stop on Éder near halftime was inhuman, but it came after his own nearly fatal error. In the 66th minute, Howard pulled off a top-shelf punch/save combo. Although it is hard to fault him much given the thankless situations, he was too quick to go down on the opener and his hands too slow to go up on the equalizer. On this night, those definitely count as fussy nit-picks.
Fabian Johnson (7.5) - For about 80 minutes, the right back was downright Fab-ulous. Frankly, he needed the ball more, because no one was picking him up across midfield for most of the game. Johnson could have had an assist on one of several threatening forays into attack. In the late going, he did have a couple of stress-inducing giveaways, and clearly needed to communicate better on the equalizer.
Geoff Cameron (2) - There is a list of things one simply cannot do in a World Cup match, and unfortunately the Stoke City ace left this contest charged with two big no-nos. Cameron had issues clearing with his feet three times, with none more embarrassing than the early gaffe that generously served up the Nani goal. He put it behind him to grow in influence as the game progressed, both defensively and moving the ball forward. Then, after looking so strong in the final half-hour of regulation, the center back badly lost his mark on the last-second equalizer. In the end, the two mistakes were so damaging, we had no choice but to regretfully dock him big-time.
Matt Besler (9) - Meanwhile, at left center back, the "Beast-ler" was a real monster. The Sporting KC defender easily led all players with both 12 clearances and five pass interceptions. Besler repeatedly stepped up to cut off the Portugal attack and pulled off an acrobatic header to keep Cristiano Ronaldo from breaking in alone in the 34th minute. If that all wasn't enough, he moved the ball safely and effectively with but one easily-covered exception.
DaMarcus Beasley (7) - Until the last play of the game, it was a great comeback effort from the veteran. Beasley was cool as a cucumber helping the ball forward and made a variety of strong defensive plays. However, his failure to close down Ronaldo on the final play of the game proved fatal.
Kyle Beckerman (5.5) - The Real Salt Lake midfielder was not particularly strong in the first half, but he picked up his game considerably after the break. Still, unnerving miscalculations on the ball led to three dangerous Portugal breakouts and he was occasionally pulled away from the gate too easily.
Michael Bradley (7) - As with Beasley's outing, there was not much one could possibly complain about until the very end. Bradley also put in a shift that was heaps better than his Ghana show, particularly in the passing department, and was a Portugal knee from scoring. The General also provided some artillery fire from long range to help keep the defense honest. The main demerit came on the tying goal, a play started by his bad turnover in midfield.
Jermaine Jones (9.5) - The Dread-ator™ was a few giveaways from earning the first ever perfect grade for a field player in this space. Jones shined in the tackle, the dribble, the pass, the good foul and even took a turn as target forward to hold possession. Just past the hour mark, the midfield menace spectacularly pulled a rabbit out of his hat to get the US on the board. And when you thought it couldn't possibly get any better from him, Jones helped unlock Portugal for the Dempsey goal by expertly releasing DeAndre Yedlin down the right. To sum up with one word: Bravo.
Graham Zusi (6) - A few defensive plays aside, Zusi was barely noticeable in the first half. He improved after intermission, particularly in link play, but still struggled all night with his crossing and restart serves. Of course, he did manage to get the ball over to Dempsey for the almost-winner, so any frustration the MLS champ may have endured did not hamper him when it came time for the big play. For that, he recovered to a passing grade.
Alejandro Bedoya (5) - The wide attacker was largely Mr. Invisible on the ball, with not a single pass completed after receiving across midfield on the night. That being said, he was quite valuable on several occasions in denying Ronaldo the ability to accept passes in his favorite zones or slowing the superstar when he did.
Clint Dempsey (8.5) - The real Captain America just stopped by to label Dempsey's performance as stand-in No. 9 as heroic. Yeah, Deuce was that good, from driving the defense bonkers with his runs to taking the knocks required to his assortment of clever link touches. To top it all off, he scored what should have been the advancement-clinching winner with his six-pack. He was out there embarrassing actual strikers with sheer guile.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann (9) - There isn't much negative to discuss, because you can't fault the coach when players take a quick nap. Full credit to the coach for shifting to the right shape for this match-up and getting improved showings out of several players in the biggest USMNT game for, well, about four years. Throw in a couple of clever subs and everyone should be quite happy with the boss.
He also dealt with the Ronaldo problem by not making such a big tactical issue over it, which was likely the best thing to do. The team simply shared the load of limiting his touches early and forcing him to receive the ball with his back to the US area. It took 24 minutes for the Ballon d'Or holder to reach 10 non-defensive touches; from those, Ronaldo had but five backward passes and a square for completions.
DeAndre Yedlin (7) - On for an 18-minutes World Cup debut, the Seattle Sounders defender deftly played a winger on TV. After helping on the back-track a few key times, he sprang into attack to set up the box situation that yielded Dempsey's goal.
Chris Wondolowski (6.5) - Though on for a brief cameo, the second World Cup debutant made a few excellent plays to drain clock. Even though this did not aid a victory, Wondo did his part.
Omar Gonzalez (5) - No real involvement from the stoppage-time sub, but perhaps there should have been. The cross that led to the equalizing goal flew right through the air zone where the extra center back should have been stationed.