c.2014 New York Times News Service
SALVADOR, Brazil — All around this country, from bars in Porto Alegre to beaches in Recife, Brazilian fans on Saturday endured the tension, followed by the pure, unadulterated relief, that comes with watching your team take part in, and win, a penalty shootout.
It is an emotion with which most fans of the United States are not familiar. The U.S. is still a developing soccer nation in many respects, and one area in which the Americans have a distinct lack of history is the taut, anxiety-ridden shootout.
If the U.S. and Belgium go to kicks from the mark (to use the official term) in their match here Tuesday, it will be the eighth shootout for the Americans in team history, according to U.S. Soccer. But that number requires some context: Two of those shootouts came in minor tournaments like the defunct Marlboro Cup, and none were in a World Cup. The most recent shootout was in 2005, and the U.S. has participated in only three shootouts in 19 years.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann, though, has more recent experience. In 2006, when Klinsmann coached Germany, his team won a World Cup shootout on its way to a third-place finish.
“We are prepared for a penalty shootout,” Klinsmann said here Monday. “We have prepared the best way possible.”
For a coach, that includes coming up with a list of which five players will step up to take a shot. Klinsmann was not revealing his choices on Sunday, but the possibilities are tantalizing. Does Clint Dempsey shoot first? Or fifth? How about Michael Bradley? And if Jozy Altidore is on the field, do you trust him — and his weakened hamstring — with a kick?
The New York Times polled several fans of the Americans, who also have various connections to U.S. Soccer, and asked the most important shootout question: Who are your five?
Starting goalkeeper for the United States at the 1990 and 1994 World Cups. He said that he had “never lost a shootout in my life.”
1. CLINT DEMPSEY: “You want to get off to a good start. Clint’s been so good at them for the U.S. over the years.”
2. GRAHAM ZUSI: “He takes all the free kicks and he has good control. You get the sense he can put the ball where he wants.”
3. BRAD DAVIS: “The same as with Zusi: I like his control.”
4. MICHAEL BRADLEY: “He’s been there before. I think he can deal with things well even if they’re not going perfectly.”
5. KYLE BECKERMAN: “I know it’s different, but look at his mentality on the field. It’s perfect.”
Coached the United States from 1995 to 1998. Won a shootout, over Mexico, in the 1995 Copa America.
1. DEMPSEY: “It’s very important to put the pressure on the opponent right from the start.”
2. BRADLEY: “He has underperformed, but I believe he’s going to step up. He’s a guy that is so calm under pressure.”
3. JERMAINE JONES: “He’s a horse, and that attitude bodes well for these kinds of moments.”
4. FABIAN JOHNSON: “He’s such a strong player, and he has shown mental toughness in this World Cup.”
5. DAMARCUS BEASLEY: “He’s a veteran and can handle this. Plus, it’s always nice to have a mix of right- and left-footed players, to change it up for the goalkeeper.”
Scored 108 goals in 305 regular season games in Major League Soccer. Now head coach of New York City FC, which will begin play in MLS in 2015.
1. BECKERMAN: “Kyle has been perhaps the calmest, coolest and most consistent performer on our team.”
2. JONES: “After his wonder-strike versus Portugal, scoring from 12 yards out will feel like a layup.”
3. JOZY ALTIDORE: “He will be on at the end of this match, and he will deliver when his team needs him the most.”
4. BRADLEY: “This will be a great time for his first good touch of the World Cup.”
5. DEMPSEY: “The fifth, and highest-pressure, position of a shootout is saved for the most clutch player on our roster.”
Midfielder for the U.S. women’s national team. Won a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics.
1. DEMPSEY: “He is our man; he has huge confidence.”
2. JONES: “Confidence is soaring, and he will be begging to take one.”
3. ZUSI: “He’s so technical and is just a cool cat.”
4. BRADLEY: “He is part of the heart of the team and will keep a calm head.”
5. JOHNSON: “He wants the ball and attacks with so much confidence right now.”
Played for United States from 1988 to 1997, making 67 appearances and scoring 11 goals. Now head coach of Sporting KC, which won the 2013 MLS Cup in a shootout.
1. AND 2. MATT BESLER AND ZUSI: Both play for Vermes in Kansas City. “Our two guys are simple: I know them and believe in them.”
3. BRADLEY: “Calm, cool guy. I think he’s a winner.”
4. DEMPSEY: “I think these last three guys all have winning qualities and enough experience that they wouldn’t panic.”
5. DAVIS: “If he’s not on the field, then Kyle Beckerman.”
Made 18 appearances (with two goals) for the United States from 2009 to 2011. Won 2008 MLS Cup with Columbus Crew.
1. DEMPSEY: “You need your first taker to be Mr. Clutch and set the standard.”
2. BRADLEY: “I’ve never seen him miss.”
3. JOHNSON: “He has impressed me so much this tournament, especially with his technique.”
4. BEASLEY: “He is the most experienced, and he is very good technically.”
5. JONES: “Simple: his killer instinct.”