Have we sufficiently calmed down? Have we gotten the scapegoating of Michael Bradley (or whomever on that total team defensive breakdown) out of our systems? The United States’ last-second 2-2 draw with Portugal on Sunday at the Arena da Amazônia was jam-packed with so many talking points a few days later we’ve almost buried one of the ledes: this was the first World Cup match to feature an AYSO-approved water break. (Alas, orange slices and Capri Suns were nowhere to be seen.)
Hell, a few U.S. players like Fabian Johnson needed to change shirts during the match because they were so thoroughly soaked with perspiration. It was, in short, hot and sweltering as every American journalist in Brazil informed us at length in the build up to the match. Call it the price of doing business at the World Cup and building a 40,000 seat stadium in the Amazon rain forest that will be used in the future for third-division Brazilian league games.
More tangible and worth pointing out is that the U.S./Portugal draw was the third match of the 2014 World Cup in Manaus. Every team that’s played in Manaus has lost in its following game. The United States plays Germany on Thursday (noon, ESPN) needing a win or draw to advance to the Round of 16, though there are scenarios in which they could advance with a loss, too.
- June 14: Italy beats England 2-1.
- June 18: Croatia beat Cameroon 4-0.
- June 22: United States draws Portugal 2-2.
These are the follow-up results for the first four teams:
- June 19: England loses to Uruguay 2-1 in São Paulo.
- June 20: Italy loses to Costa Rica 1-0 in Recife.
- June 23: Cameroon loses to Brazil 4-1 in Brasilia.
- June 23: Croatia loses to Mexico 3-1 in Recife.
As mentioned, it’s a small sample size but guess where the United States and Germany playing on Thursday? Yep, Recife, where the advance forecast for Thursday is 82 degrees and rain. On top of that, the U.S. will have one less day to prepare having played on Sunday whereas Germany played its second Group G game vs. Ghana on Saturday. Via 538 projections all but Cameroon were slight favorites in its post-Manaus games, estimated to take 1.67 points. The four, as we saw, combined for zero.
The England/Uruguay match was played in mild, if not cool, overcast conditions. England lost moreso because it didn’t mark Luis Suarez on a long goal kick compared to post-Amazon fatigue. We can probably throw out the Cameroon/Brazil result since Cameroon had already been eliminated and had nothing to play for, either, by that point.
The other two matches are worth heeding for some warning. Italy looked awful post-Manaus, although credit Costa Rica coach Jorge Luis Pinto was employing a pressing, physical game that took Andrea Pirlo out of the match entirely. (Beards + long hair = a bad combination in the heat?) Never the fastest team to begin with, the Azzurri played most of the match stuck in first gear, losing 1-0.
At this point its hard to say its anything more than coincidence, but Croatia and Mexico were scoreless until the 72nd minute, when the floodgates finally opened up for El Tri with three late goals.
Although we don’t like to think luck or random occurrences matter in sports anymore, consider the World Cup draw itself. Back in December we all moaned the U.S. got boned landing in a group with Germany, Portugal and Ghana. It wasn’t simply the group itself, but the U.S. randomly drew one of the short straws and wound up with one of the four games in Manaus. FIFA assigns the locations of the matches to each group before the draw, (wink, wink) randomly. So not only did the U.S. land a game in Manaus, but it also worked out to have the most travel of any team between venues — something that has to be a factor after three games in 10 days regardless of whether or not American players are accustomed to long journeys.
If anything, it’s bizarre that FIFA organizers would have three of the post-Manaus teams playing their next games in Recife which has seen temperatures between the 80s-90s all tournament with high humidity.
There’s also the other half of the Manaus hangover — Portugal. The U.S. can still get through to the Round of 16 with a loss to Germany, so long as it doesn’t get blown out AND the Portugal-Ghana game ends in a draw and a long list of scenarios documented here. The worst case scenario is Ghana smacks a tired Portugal team around in Brasilia, winning by two or more goals. In that case the U.S. would have to get a result vs. Germany. Portugal knows the only way it gets through is with a win and a win by a large margin, meaning it should be a wide-open match prone to all sorts of craziness on tired legs.
If nothing else, hope the United States doesn’t follow the path of Croatia on Thursday vs. Germany, hanging tough for 70+ minutes only to be undone some late mental lapses. We all saw a lifetime’s worth of those to bookend the Portugal draw, right?