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Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

World Cup Gag Job: It's OK to Say the US Men's Soccer Team Choked

That about sums it up, doesn’t it?

The United States men’s soccer team may or may not advance in the World Cup on Thursday, when all it needs is a draw against Germany to escape “The Group of Death.” It may or may not put Sunday’s debacle against Portugal behind it in the quest to further folly the loser mentality words of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

Maybe.

But the reality is that only a win or a draw on Thursday will erase the memories of one of the greatest soccer wins in Team USA history turning into one of the biggest chokes in this country’s soccer annals.

It’s OK to call it such. Yes, the US grabbed a point, and if you told anyone going into the tournament that America would have four points after two games, yada, yada, yada. Sunday was still a gag job, just as many labeled the US women’s team’s World Cup shootout title loss to Japan in 2011. Just as you could classify the Patriots drooling all over themselves in late fourth quarter situations of New England’s last two Super Bowls.

Buckner. Manning. Cundiff. The San Jose Sharks.

And yes, the United States men’s national soccer team.

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I know, “hot sports take” and all, but if the US somehow loses against Germany (despite the cotton candy possibility that both teams would prefer to tie and advance), America’s World Cup will have come down to a game in which they were thoroughly outplayed and miraculously won, and a game in which they dominated the second half only to watch Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Silvestre Varela rip out a country’s heart as the world chuckled.

In other words, be prepared for “The Group of Death” to be used as the ultimate excuse.

“Obviously we’re disappointed, but at the end of the day you’ve got to look at the positives,” said captain Clint Dempsey, who put the US ahead, for what looked like for good, in the 81st minute. “We got a point.”

Yay.

America should be celebrating a pair of World Cup wins Monday. They should have been one of eight teams with two wins to their name. Instead of six points, they’re now tied with Germany at four. Instead of playing Germany with something to prove, nothing to lose, the US now will tactically approach the contest in a way that both teams can benefit from. Wouldn’t it have been much more fun to go into Thursday with the reckless abandon of maybe putting a dagger into Germany’s heart?

Instead, it’s as if soccer fans have fallen into Klinsmann’s trap. Hey, there’s no way we can win anyway. Might as well play the role of lovable underdog. Valiant show and all, but at least they got a point.

Sorry. If you’re invested in the sport at any level from the bandwagon to getting your visa stamped for Brazil, this sucks. The US choked.

“The agenda from the soccer community has been to put American soccer on the same kind of level as those guys in those other sports,” WEEI’s Tim Benz wrote. “Well, you get what you asked for. You can't have it both ways. You can't have sports on a big-time level without big-time fallout if you fail with extreme circumstances. And that's what the US soccer team did Sunday vs. Portugal.”

I’m not soccer-infused enough to analyze Michael Bradley’s turnover, and how it led to Portugal’s glee. I’ll leave it to Taylor Twellman to suggest how Graham Zusi’s casual stroll to the sideline added an extra minute.

But the US screwed up somehow, and it led to one of the biggest gaffes in soccer’s much-debated place in this country’s history.

The statistics say that the US still has a good chance of advancing in the World Cup.

The truth remains, they already choked that opportunity away in about six or seven seconds on Sunday.

“Now we have to go out and beat Germany,” Klinsmann said. “That’s what we have to do. We have one less day to recover. We played in the Amazon, they played in a place with less travel. We have to do it the tough way.”

Perfect. Klinsmann is already making excuses four days out. As for Sunday, there aren’t any. The US gagged. It’s OK to say it.