"Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come."
How you feel this morning about losing a draw to Portugal last night probably depends on how you feel about the inevitable ice weaseling that comes with love. (It was that bad, at least bad enough to resort to Life In Hell-era Matt Groening quotes.)
From one perspective, the United States lost a win last night, coughing up a late goal off a schoolboy blunder in the final splinters of a match the USMNT had won via a courageous comeback. Soccer and hockey both call this bug a feature: the capacity to hide hot, venomous, and sudden death in the midst of a seemingly harmless flow of events. One minute you're on the snowmobile; the next, the snick-snicking of weaselly teeth clicking hungrily in the frozen night.
Tim Howard acknowledges fans after the draw (Photo: Christopher Lee -- Getty)
That's a fair way to feel. How you may feel about the goal at the end may also depend on how you like to process events. One emotional editor cuts this as a defeat, a win torn out from the hands of the United States by a sinister Portuguese team playing without several key players and with a gimpy version of the the world's greatest caricature of soccer greatness: Cristiano Ronaldo. Four points! There at the end! And then, swooping in at the end, hanging from a helicopter like a Statham movie villain, Ronaldo dripped hair gel on our grasping hand, smiled, and stole it away, most likely flying away to a posh villa where his masseur and your spouse was waiting to touch his immaculate abs.
Another story is this: the United States, an inferior team to the Portuguese overall, did what underdog teams cannot do in a match. They gave up two howlers, and were lucky to not give up more. Ronaldo, fresh off his evildoing helicopter and with pure epoxy running through his hair, had already misfired in front of goal with nothing but Tim Howard in front of him. (Remember that?) Portugal missed another laugher before that. Portugal sleptwalk through a good piece of the match, and like a lot of talented underachievers had to rely on last-minute pyrotechnics enabled by the one thing you can say the Portuguese have that we don't: superior talent.
(Superior talent is no knock on the United States, by the way. The best player in the world might be sitting on Portugal's roster. Our striker, who almost scored a goal with his genitals last night, is playing in MLS after a middling stint in the EPL. Our star midfielder is playing for Toronto FC, a team that will not be confused for Real Madrid. The player who has kept the United States alive -- defensive mid Jermaine Jones -- is currently playing for Beskiktas in the Turkish Super Lig, which while metal as hell is where Didier Drogba went to fatten his retirement accounts after a stint in China didn't work out.)
Another editor for this story might remind you that historically the United States has been all ice weasels and zero fun at the World Cup. We might even remind you that the United States, as a host country, did not not advance past the round of 16 in 1994. We could point you to the desperation of the 2010 World Cup, when in a group with England, Algeria, and Slovenia, the United States needed a late goal from Landon Donovan to advance. You remember that goal, but forget that the United States got in that situation in the first place when they drew with lowly Slovenia. We were lucky to draw 2-2 with Portugal, sequencing be damned, and still stand a good chance of advancing to the knockout stage.
*In a match so frustrating I ate an entire pint glass in frustration, and chased it with half a bar table.
You might also look at it this way. This is by far the best, most consistent performance the United States has had at any World Cup to this point in group stage. For a good chunk of the Portugal game the United States actually passed the ball, controlled the game, and threatened consistently. Imagine that four years ago: consistent, flowing menace from the United States, a team known more for prayer volleys down the flanks and endless, hopeful crosses into the box. That was the United States last night, a neonate team still standing on wobbly fawn legs in a forest full of mature predators.
One final editor might put it this way: this team cannot play without placing both hands around your adrenal glands, squeezing, and watching the viewer's pupils dilate. If you don't like that, then please, for your health and that of those around you: do not watch this team. Do not operate heavy machinery while watching this team, do not place young children in your care during their viewings, and do not casually operate on anyone while listening to the game. Every open brain surgery is a lobotomy during a USMNT game, and every omelet a disaster of eggshells and half-cooked ingredients.
For so many reasons, it will not be easy or simple, but it's not simple or easy for anyone. The most talented team in the world by reputation, Spain, is already out of the tourney. England's gone. Italy have fewer points, and have already lost to Costa Rica, a team the United States considers a fair but equal opponent in CONCACAF play. Soccer's only equality is cruelty, and prolonged exposure turns even the most self-respecting viewer into a masochistic gambler bent on playing the next hand. This game beats you into submission over a long enough span, and turns wins and losses at the whistle into the same intense, indispensable drug.
Yes, even last night, that last goal gave a horrifying shock not too many degrees removed from pleasure. It's sick, but after watching this much soccer in a week, that's where I am, and probably where you are, if you're honest. Despite knowing the beast that lies ahead in Germany, you want in on the next hand, because the alternatives are ... well, you know. Clicking their teeth in the cold, and waiting for you to fall off the snowmobile.