Standing, off the couch and ready to celebrate a historic victory by the U.S. men's national team in World Cup play, seconds from beating Portugal 2-1 to go top of the Group Of Death and booking a place in the Round of 16, watching the stoppage time clock tick indeterminably to the final whistle, groaning as Michael Bradley coughed up the ball near the center line, 60 yards from goal but 30 seconds from game over.
As Cristiano Ronaldo took possession of the ball on the right wing and dashed into position to deliver a cross -- his only true moment of brilliance in the entire game -- almost as if in slow-motion, Silvestre Varela glided into space, willing the ball to his head, shielding off Geoff Cameron, and hammering home the equalizing dagger.
Emotionally still trying to come to grasp with beating Portugal, the task suddenly became what to make of the draw. The single permutation that was presented to start the day -- beat Ronaldo and the men in red and march on in the tournament -- was now another lengthy Nate Silver blog entry to digest. "Win and you're in" had become ... something that made the head hurt.
Cameron, whose early match gaffe had gifted Portugal a 1-0 lead, was redeemed by second half strikes from Jermaine Jones and Clint Dempsey -- the second a sort of "belly-goal," or perhaps more athletically described as an abdominal crunch. But there he was, trotting into the area, meekly sticking up a leg to clear a ball that would never reach his foot. The last touch of the game would be Varela's. as would the last laugh. That wasn't supposed to happen!?
Such was the denial.
Taylor Twellman, moments before had shared the ugly fact that the U.S. had never come back to win a World Cup Finals game after trailing, apparently forgetting to knock on wood after the utterance, though countless supporters throughout country were doing just that to their coffee tables. How dare Twellman bring up that ignominious statistical tidbit. It is almost unconscionably cruel to ominously state such a thing. Who's side are you on, anyway!
The FIFA controlled cameras panned the roaring crowd at the Arena da Amazônia, catching a red, white, and blue clad believer mouthing the words coming from lips in Manaus and across the world: "No way!" Portuguese supporters went bonkers -- though surprisingly not the coach -- as Americans through hands over faces. Beer shower celebrations 10 minutes earlier now repeated themselves as cups were slammed to the ground.
This was the U.S.'s day to shine, to conquer, to make soccer the center of the nation's sporting attention. How dare Portugal ruin it. Why did Graham Zusi have to be so methodical in leaving the field, granting those with the deficit an extra minute of stoppage time. Where was Omar Gonzalez, subbed in minutes earlier for one reason -- defense in the air! -- on the fateful play? How could this happen?
Welling up was anger.
But it did happen. And sad Ronaldo was now glad Ronaldo. Even watching and rewatching the replay over and over still led to the same result: Tim Howard thrusting an arm up into the same space a Brazuca had been milliseconds before. The net still bulged backward, signaling the goal. Why couldn't the header be off-target. Why couldn't Cameron peak over his shoulder as he drifted back into position -- just once, for goodness sake -- and see the fast approaching Varela.
Beating Germany and winning the group, Thursday's task, a once future result that would be gladly turned in to turn back the clock and see the U.S. hold on against Portugal. As long as necessary a mea culpa would be composed, exonerating Klinsmann of any wrong doing he was accused off after the not very pretty but notably effective 1994-like performance against Ghana, if only the score could return to 2-1. Please, give the points to the U.S., as was deserved.
Pleas turned to bargaining.
Slouching, back in the couch, chin buried in chest, inches from the crest that suddenly tasted somewhat less sweet. The announcers blabbered on, but the words were nothing more than din. The Group G table flashed on the screen, with the U.S. sandwiched between Germany and Ghana, the scenario next to it detailing some series of results that had to happen in four days at Arena Pernambuco in Recife. No mention of the already qualified teams for the knockout round, the U.S.'s name in the list.
The sweat of watching the game, nothing like that experienced by the players in Manaus, soaked through the cotton t-shirt and cooled in the growing coldness of the room. A chilled shiver ran from head to toe, as it really sunk in that three points had in an instant become one. The heroic comeback and the valiant stand coming up short. A win for the ages, simply another near-miss for the U.S.
And now, Germany. A loss to the mighty Mannschaft could send the Yanks home early, perhaps allowing the same Portugal that was still counting their blessings via Varela, to take their place. Defeat to the Germans would be unbearable, a cruel ending to an otherwise fantastic World Cup tale, another four year wait to try it all again. Thursday could wait for as long as it wanted. No need to feel that pain anytime soon.
The onset of a sporting depression.
But the teams have to play the games. If anything has been learned from countless hours of tournament viewing it was that anything can happen. Spain, the defending champions, were the first team eliminated from the group stage; England was not much later in following suit. Leads were coughed up on a daily basis, and the unlikely ascended from box-score afterthoughts to headline heroes with amazing regularity. This was a World Cup without a script, and the U.S. has one more game to play.
Beat Germany, even draw against the tournament co-favorites, and the U.S. was through. The noises on the television, from which the distinct voices of punditry emerged, coalesced around the singular idea that the Americans were right where they wanted to be. Four points in two games set the team up for a crowning performance on the concluding day of group play. Klinsmann's men were on target to achieve their goal.
The quietness of the room was slowly replaced by a simmering debate on the merits of the discussion. And then that gave way to a healthy optimism that everything was on track again. What if the U.S. had scored first, given up two goals, then delivered the stoppage time dagger into Portugal hearts? It would have been the most glorious moment in U.S. soccer history had it played out that way.
So what that the scoring order was reversed. The U.S. had just accomplished exactly what it had set out to do when training camp began on the Stanford campus just over a month ago. Heck, even Chris Wondolowski made it into the game, his World Cup debut the latest improbable chapter in the Homer-esque novel of his career that is still being written. What an amazing moment for the kid out of Danville, the Earthquakes talisman. 2-2 to Portugal is something to be proud of.
A serving of healthy acceptance.
Weary legs get a chance to rest as the U.S. team makes its way to Recife via Sao Paulo in the coming days. Frayed nerves for supporters get their own regen days as well, healed by the knowledge that their team was doing incredible things in Brazil. One Nation, One Team, never rang more true than today.