Placing the blame for the popped balloon

June 24, 2014

By Neil Pierson

Imagine a balloon floating lazily through the air, as nonchalant and easy-going as can be. Now, imagine sticking a needle in that balloon before it can flutter away.

Pop!

Neil Pierson Press reporter

Neil Pierson
Press reporter

That’s what it felt like June 22 when the air was sucked from the lungs of thousands of stars-and-stripes-clad fans at Fuel sports bar in downtown Seattle.

Thirty seconds from the final whistle, Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo — who had done his best to be ineffective and virtually invisible most of the match — whipped in a tremendous crossing pass to his teammate Silvestre Varela, who easily headed the ball past helpless United States goalkeeper Tim Howard.

What had been a sure-fire American victory — and advancement to the knockout stages of the World Cup — just moments earlier turned into the needle-through-the-balloon scenario no one wanted to believe possible.

Portugal 2, United States 2. The dream of the U.S. navigating the so-called “Group of Death” with a match yet to be played dashed. Hopes riding on the result of the June 26 group finale against Germany, one of the sport’s superpowers.

As many in the Twitterverse suggested in the aftermath, soccer is a cruel sport, maybe the cruelest of them all. The U.S. controlled large sections of the match, only to see victory slip away because of two fateful mistakes.

It would be easy to blame U.S. central defender Geoff Cameron for both of Portugal’s goals. In the first five minutes of the game, he flubbed an easy clearing attempt, serving the ball on a silver platter to Portuguese striker Nani for an open shot near the goal.

And after the U.S. had fought back so hard to take the lead through Jermaine Jones and Seattle Sounders FC star Clint Dempsey, Cameron mucked things up again. He got caught ball-watching and allowed Varela to slip behind him for the equalizer.

Credit certainly goes to Ronaldo for a pinpoint pass, but the goal doesn’t happen if Cameron controls his own space and is less worried about a guy on the wing, 30 yards from goal, who was not only no threat to score, but was fairly well-marked by defender DaMarcus Beasley.

Yup, that’s soccer. Two mistakes, two goals for the opponent, and an otherwise outstanding performance is marred.

Cameron isn’t the only one to blame, though. Midfielder Michael Bradley, widely proclaimed as America’s best player (I’ll stick with Dempsey), made a terrible pass to set up the final scoring sequence. If Bradley just boots the ball to the other end of the field, the goal never happens.

Bradley also missed a glorious scoring chance early in the second half, with his shot saved on the goal line by a Portuguese defender who epitomized the definition of right place, right time. If Bradley scores, then the Jones and Dempsey goals likely cement the win.

My wife and I, who had gleefully joined in the beer-and-water-throwing celebration following the two American goals, were among the throng who filed out of Fuel in a state of shock. The train ride home was equally sober — pun intended.

However, I know we wouldn’t trade the rollercoaster of emotions during that two-hour span for anything. This is why sports provides the ultimate reality TV experience. You never know what’s going to happen.

That holds true for this week’s big game against Germany. The U.S. will surely be a big underdog, but one perfect moment may be all they need to steal some points and move on in the tournament.

And even if we have our balloon popped again, well, that lazy little ride along the breeze was still pretty fun.

 

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