USA goalkeeper never had a chance on Portugal’s equalizer

Picture yourself in the mouth of the goal, and far out to your left Portugal standout Cristiano Ronaldo is racing with the ball down the right wing with less than a minute left in stoppage time.

Tim Howard can. Team USA’s 6-foot-3 keeper had a perfect vantage point of the last play of the match, as it turned out, unfolding before him in last Sunday night’s World Cup men’s soccer thriller at Manaus, Brazil.

As the U.S. defenders were backpedaling furiously to position themselves and help Howard in the penalty box, Ronaldo planted his left foot, and swung his right leg to strike the ball.

Up to that point, the USA defenders had done a creditable job of containing Ronaldo, and had forced him to play wide at the end.

“I thought the team defense on Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably one of the top two soccer players in the world along with Lionel Messi, was solid,” said Marietta High boys soccer coach Todd Morris. “The US was able to limit his touches in and around the penalty area, and that was key as he is a brilliant finisher.”

Ronaldo’s cross was classic and right on the money to teammate Silvestre Varela, the lone Portugal striker, who had penetrated America’s defense virtually unmarked several yards out in front of the goal frame.

Howard saw all of this.

Does he come off the goal line, and try to intercept the cross? If it’s too far out, and he misses, it’s an open net.

Or, does he stand his ground and try to make the save if Varela connects?

Varela, who was running full speed at the goal, couldn’t have been led any better as he headed the ball with some zip past Howard into the back of the net.

Howard never got a hand, or had a chance on Portugal’s equalizer. It happened so fast.

“All kinds of crazy things can happen at the end of a game, and it can get hairy,” said Marietta High girls soccer coach Jeff Price. “It was a perfect play.”

Indeed it was.

Team USA and their supporters naturally were stunned, while Portugal was jubilant in earning a 2-2 draw and staying alive in World Cup tournament play.

Give the Portuguese booters credit. They were all but beat. And, while they didn’t win the match, they did rally late to tie it.

As for the United States, a victory would’ve been preferred, but a deadlock is not the end of the world. At least the Americans didn’t lose, and still have an opportunity to advance to the Sweet 16 against Germany Thursday at noon.

“Great soccer match to watch on TV,” said Morris of the U.S.-Portugal match. “It was highly entertaining, and this is what the World Cup is all about – the patriotism, the creativity, the drama.”

Morris probably could empathize with Howard a little bit. During his prep playing days, the Tiger boss was a pretty fair country goalkeeper himself.

Not surprisingly, Morris believed Howard was Player of the Game. And, why not? Howard kept the U.S. in the match when it trailed 1-0 early on with some acrobatic saves. On one stop, he had to leap laterally to tip the ball over the crossbar on a wide-open net.

He also benefitted from a goalie’s best friend – the post.

Still, he finished with eight saves, and it took a perfect cross and finish by Portugal to beat him.

“Tim Howard turned in another MVP performance for the USA,” Morris said. “He is a world class goalkeeper for sure.”

Howard will once again need to bring his “A” game to the pitch when the U.S. faces Germany in a group-play match. A tie or better puts America into the knockout round of 16.

“You just hope this (U.S.-Portugal) result does not come back to haunt the USA,” Morris said. “Being so close to going through to the round of 16 and having it taken away from you that suddenly can and will test the leadership of (USA coach) Jurgen Klinsmann and the mental toughness of the USA squad.”

Ron Johnston is the Marietta Times sports editor, and can be reached at 376-5441 or at