Dempsey delight: The influential midfielder celebrates his goal against Portugal. There was late heartbreak for the USA but they have still impressed in Brazil. *AFP photo
Dempsey delight: The influential midfielder celebrates his goal against Portugal. There was late heartbreak for the USA but they have still impressed in Brazil. *AFP photo

Emotions and football are funny things.

On Sunday night, emotion didn’t override the context of the U.S.-Portugal result; it was the context.

If the U.S. were the ones who had clawed back to draw the game level in stoppage time, Americans such as myself would have been elated. A draw with a European power! Fantastic.

Unfortunately for me, we do not live in a universe where that occurred and it’s hard to tell really sad people they should be happy. Not after Cristiano Ronaldo crosses and Silvestre Varela smashes the ball home in the 94th minute. 

It was the latest regulation-time goal in World Cup history. Gut punch stuff; the type of goal that makes normally sane people scream incoherently at the television — all because a bunch of young millionaires who happen to share your citizenship did not beat a group of other young millionaires from a different country. The guy at the bar who started the post-goal, mock U-S-A chant did not help matters. 

This was not the time for cold assessment. The consensus was we should have won. This was a time to lob expletive-laden questions into the heavens. Emotions. Football.

But the reality is the Portugal match was a fantastic result for the U.S.  Yes, Portugal were without Fabio Coentrao and Pepe and Ronaldo was clearly not 100 per cent.

But, even given those factors, the U.S. should not be able to trade punches with Portugal. They have players who toil in some of the best leagues in the world; we have a defensive midfielder who looks like he got lost on his way to a Phish concert and somehow wandered onto the national team. 

That draw, coupled with the Ghana win, has already made this World Cup a success for the Americans. Regardless of the result tomorrow, the U.S. gave it a go in the Group of Death and were not laughed off the world stage. We should be counting this as victory. And much of the credit must go to U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann. 

His World Cup selections were scrutinized, specifically the omission of Landon Donovan. Two of his choices that had some scratching their heads — DeAndre Yedlin and Chris Wondolowski —– performed admirably as subs in the Portugal game. 

Additionally, some questioned Klinsmann’s tactical acumen when he was hired. Jogi Loew, the critics said, was the real brain behind that 2006 Germany squad. Klinsmann was the rah-rah guy; good for team morale but not much else. For any fan of the U.S. team, this was worrying, since our tactics for the past two decades can be summed up as “run far and fast, then do it again.” 

The results, it’s fair to say, have thus far vindicated him. Much ink has been spilled about whether Klinsmann needs to get the Americans playing more like Europeans or have them create their own “brand” of football, a most tedious exercise in lazy analysis and tired tropes.  Americans, like people everywhere, appreciate results. Aesthetics are secondary to triumph. 

The better question is whether Klinsmann will overhaul the structure of U.S. soccer, so that it apes that of European clubs. In addition to having a contract as head coach that runs through 2018, Klinsmann is also the technical director of U.S. soccer, meaning he will mold the development of the game in the country from the youth levels on up.

He has rightly identified the collegiate athletic system in the U.S. as a hindrance to football development. Football simply isn’t played year round in the States as it is in other countries; it’s much less ubiquitous.  These are realities he will continue to wrangle with.

Klinsmann has been quoted as saying he wants to see American players challenging themselves in European leagues. The MLS, meanwhile, wants to retain its homegrown talent in order to build its brand. Those two aims are not congruous, a situation that will have to be ironed out in years to come.

Klinsmann clearly had an eye for Russia in 2018 with this year’s World Cup selection; how else do you explain the presence of teenager Julian Green, as well as young, inexperienced internationals like Yedlin and John Brooks. Any success now should be viewed as a bonus. And a success this World Cup has been for the U.S., even if Germany eviscerates us, Ghana or Portugal notch a big enough win and we don’t advance. 

That could happen. A bright future will never feel so crummy.