Sporting KC

‘We could taste the second round,’ Sporting KC’s Matt Besler says of America’s World Cup draw with Portugal

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo begins to get up after going down while being challenged by United States' Matt Besler, right, and United States' Geoff Cameron, left, during the group G World Cup soccer match between the USA and Portugal at the Arena da Amazonia in Manaus, Brazil, Sunday, June 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Paulo Duarte)
Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo begins to get up after going down while being challenged by United States' Matt Besler, right, and United States' Geoff Cameron, left, during the group G World Cup soccer match between the USA and Portugal at the Arena da Amazonia in Manaus, Brazil, Sunday, June 22, 2014. (AP Photo/Paulo Duarte) AP

After the way the United States men’s national team began Sunday’s match against Portugal — allowing a goal in the fifth minute — the 2-2 draw could have been considered a desirable result.

Until the ending snatched away an even better one.

Portugal’s Silvestre Varela scored in the final minute to deny the Americans a victory and prevent them from celebrating an early berth into the World Cup knockout stage.

It would have marked the first appearance in the bracket for Sporting Kansas City’s Matt Besler and Graham Zusi, who both started. Besler played the full match, while Zusi played the first 90 minutes before he was substituted out for Omar Gonzalez in second half added time.

“It’s disappointing the way the game ended,” Besler said via text message. “We could taste the second round. We were right there.

“But you can’t fault anybody’s effort. We left everything we had on the field. I’m so damn proud to be part of this team (and) to be an American right now.”

The opportunity to advance still remains a possibility — arguably even a good one.

The United States is locked in a tie with Germany atop the Group G standings. Both teams have four points, and they will meet at 11 a.m. Thursday in Brazil. With Germany currently holding the edge in goal differential, the U.S. needs a victory against the Germans to win the group outright. But even a tie would be good enough to advance to the single-elimination bracket.

Ghana and Portugal have each secured one point in the group, but both remain alive for a potential spot in the knockout stage.

Besler said the team’s focus has already shifted from a heartbreaking finish Sunday to a key opportunity Thursday.

“Big picture — we control our own destiny against Germany, and that’s all you can ask for,” Besler said. “It’s a quick turnaround. We have to move on from Portugal and get focused. It starts tonight.”

In their first World Cup, Besler and Zusi made key contributions for the second consecutive match Sunday.

Besler showed no ill-effects from a hamstring injury that cut his World Cup debut short Monday against Ghana. He went down with another injury in the second half Sunday, but he returned in the match after a brief stay on the sideline.

Besler helped silence Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo, who is considered one of the world’s best goal scorers, until Ronaldo assisted on the game-tying goal in the 95th minute.

Zusi’s play led to another goal. After providing the game-winning assist in a 2-1 victory against Ghana to open World Cup group play Monday, Zusi assisted on Clint Dempsey’s go-ahead goal in the 81st minute Sunday.

Michael Bradley’s initial shot deflected to the left side of the goalkeeper box, where Zusi whipped a one-touch crossing pass to Dempsey, who easily found the back of the net for his second goal of the tournament.

The goal ignited a loud eruption from the crowd of more than 13,000 people who stood shoulder-to-shoulder to watch the game inside the Power & Light District in downtown Kansas City. A chant of “Zeus” broke out after the go-ahead score.

Security offers outside the entertainment district said they turned away thousands more after the area reached capacity.

To reach Sam McDowell, send email to smcdowell@kcstar.com. Follow him at twitter.com/SamMcDowell11.

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