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updated: 6/23/2014 6:34 AM

Late goal like a kick in the gut for U.S. soccer team

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  • Portugal's Silvestre Varela heads the ball past United States goalkeeper Tim Howard to score his side's second goal Sunday and tie the game at 2-2 during the group G World Cup soccer match between the USA and Portugal at the Arena da Amazonia in Manaus, Brazil.

      Portugal's Silvestre Varela heads the ball past United States goalkeeper Tim Howard to score his side's second goal Sunday and tie the game at 2-2 during the group G World Cup soccer match between the USA and Portugal at the Arena da Amazonia in Manaus, Brazil.
    Associated Press

 
 

Did you really expect it to be that easy? You forgot soccer can be a cruel game.

In a World Cup that has been so dramatic, so full of surprises, so high-scoring, it's only fitting that the United States' match Sunday against Portugal should end with a heartbreaking, game-tying goal for the Portuguese in the final seconds, the latest World Cup regulation-time goal ever.

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United States 2, Portugal 2.

Cruel.

It's draws like this that can feel like losses -- the United States would have cruised to the Round of 16 with a victory -- but it's times like this that call for perspective.

A week ago a draw against the No. 4-ranked team in the world would have seemed like a U.S. victory. At halftime, trailing 1-0, a draw would have been just fine for the Americans. And because they earned that draw, they still control their own fate.

Still, a draw when your opponent scores on the last kick of the game feels like a kick in the gut.

It's a kick in the gut the Americans have to forget about quickly. Because they didn't lock up the win, they have a lot to play for in their final game of the group stage.

With a victory or another draw against No. 2-ranked Germany, the United States advances anyway. With a draw in the Ghana-Portugal game, to be played simultaneously (11 a.m. Thursday), the United States advances anyway.

With a loss to Germany, the Americans will be tied in standings points with the winner of the Ghana-Portugal game. The Americans own a 2-goal advantage in the tiebreaking goal differential over the Ghanaians, 5 goals over Portugal.

The Americans will be rooting for a tie in the Ghana-Portugal game, or at worst a slim Portugal victory. ESPN will have the split screen working overtime.

Get ready to hold your breath and bite your fingernails again. Thursday won't be easy, for the team or its fans.

Germany seems to have the advantage against the Americans, and not only in the FIFA rankings. Having played Saturday, the mighty Germans get an extra day of rest, they don't have as much travel, and they didn't play conditions as tough as the United States played in hot, humid Manaus.

"We've got to do it the tough way," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann told ESPN.

The Germans can clinch first place in Group G, the so-called Group of Death, with a win or a draw Thursday. They have something to play for, but they're in a better position than the Americans, with an even better goal differential.

Instead of celebrating and resting the guys who started the first two games, the United States must play Thursday for its tournament life. It must remember how well it played Sunday and play that way again, minus those gut-wrenching two mistakes that Portugal scored on.

The Americans must hope they aren't on the wrong side of this World Cup's dramatics again.

Sunday was enough cruelty for one World Cup, wasn't it?

• Follow Orrin's soccer reports on Twitter@schwarz_orrin.

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