If Clint Dempsey hadn't somehow managed to secure his place in Internet folklore by scoring a goal with his abs last night, then it's possible the most enduring image from the US-Portugal game would have been Michael Bradley's face after his shot on goal was blocked by Ricardo Costa's knee in the 57th minute. The game's broadcast kindly included slo-mo footage of Bradley's reaction; with his hands grasping either side of his face, eyes hollow with despair, he looked like Edvard Munch's "The Scream," only the source of his angst wasn't existential. It was a scrappy, swarthy 33-year-old who plays for Valencia.
"Soccer can be a cruel game sometimes," said Bradley to reporters after the match, a veritable Space Mountain of a showdown between the unlikely underdogs from the world's superpower and the preening pompadours from a country that has a lower GDP than Missouri. He wasn't wrong. Without Silvestre Varela's stoppage time goal from Cristiano Ronaldo's stunning cross, literally in the last 30 seconds of the game, the USMNT would be heading comfortably into the knockout stages of the 2014 FIFA World Cup as the leaders of Group G, affectionately referred to before yesterday as the "Group of Death." It would have been magnificent.
Still: Take a moment to consider the possibility that it might be more fun this way.
This might sound like the twistiest pretzel logic ever spun (and bear in mind that it's coming from an England fan), but soccer wouldn't be half as enjoyable without its extravagant pendulum shifts between beer-soaked elation and crushing agony. It's profoundly, messily (or Messi-ly, depending on which team you root for) unfair. The U.S. side played with real fortitude in Manaus, not only proving itself to be eminently capable, but actually showing up the depleted Portuguese team. They should have won the game; thanks to some early sloppiness from Geoff Cameron and last minute fumbling from Bradley, they left it with one point instead of three.