After the United States lost 1-0 to Germany on Thursday in the World Cup but still advanced to the round of 16 thanks to Portugal’s 2-1 victory over Ghana, it became fashionable to say the Americans “backed in” to their coveted spot beyond group play.
What really happened is that the U.S. built a comfortable advantage over both Portugal and Ghana after the first two matches of group play, leaving the Americans with many “outs,” as the poker crowd likes to say, when it came to advancing Thursday.
Winning their own match was the simplest way. Earning a draw against Germany was also a straight-forward way.
But still the likeliest way was for the U.S. to keep it close vs. Germany, hope for the best, but accept a one-goal loss because in many circumstances that would mean the squad advanced. A lopsided loss, however, would put the Americans in much more potential peril.
So while there is never really a cause to say a team backed into the playoffs in any sport — wins are wins, losses are losses, ties are ties, no matter when they happen — it is particularly not true with the U.S. in the World Cup.
After all, as we tweeted 10 days ago before the first U.S. match, the realistic path to advancement was pretty clear:
Beat Ghana. Draw with Portugal. Defensive shell/keep it close vs. Germany. Goal differential. #roadtotheknockoutstage
— RandBall (@RandBall) June 16, 2014