The top-ranked Americans did not perform close to a championship level and found themselves in a distressing situation against a first-time World Cup participant that they had beaten in all 10 previous meetings without conceding a goal.
How close did they come to their earliest elimination — by far — in program history? In second-half stoppage time, substitute Ana Capeta hit the right post with a low bid from the top of the box. Had that gone in, the Americans would’ve been eliminated.
Instead, they settled for their second straight draw following a lackluster opening victory. They never looked like a team, though, that has set the benchmark for women’s soccer over three decades. With a 1-0-2 record and five points, they finished a point ahead of Portugal (1-1-1), which could only advance by winning.
The Netherlands (2-0-1) won the group with seven points. Even if the United States had won, it would’ve lost the first tiebreaker (goal differential) to the Dutch, who blasted Vietnam, 7-0.
The only other time the United States failed to win its group was 2011, when it parlayed a second-place finish into a championship appearance.
In the days leading to the match, the big question was whether Coach Vlatko Andonovski would adjust the lineup after leaving it unchanged through the first two matches. (He had been reluctant to make any kind of moves, opting for one of a possible five substitutions in the second game.)
The answer came 90 minutes before kickoff.
Replacing Savannah DeMelo in attacking midfield, Rose Lavelle started for the first time. As part of Andonovski’s plan to build up her minutes following a long injury layoff, Lavelle was a second-half sub in each of the first two matches.
Aside from assisting Lindsey Horan’s equalizer against the Netherlands, Lavelle changed the attacking dynamics with her ability to take on defenders on the dribble.
Trinity Rodman, a 21-year-old winger who had moderate impact in the first two games, also took a seat, giving way to Lynn Williams, who went unused in the first two matches.
On paper, Portugal posed no threat: 10 consecutive defeats to the United States by a 39-0 count. But Portugal is among a growing number of European countries making strides in the women’s game, and despite a No. 21 world ranking, it had the capacity to frustrate the United States with disciplined tactics.
Upsets and close calls throughout the tournament had sounded additional alarms.
“All these results actually are reminders for us that the rankings mean nothing in the World Cup,” Andonovski said on the eve of the Portugal game.
He was right — about both teams. In the first half, Portugal was the better team. It started well for the United States, which set the terms and played with commitment and fervor.
Like in the first two matches, however, the Americans ran out of ideas and composure in dangerous positions. They made several unforced errors and lacked chemistry and imagination.
As the half wore on, Portugal became increasingly comfortable in possession, attacking through midfield and finding seams in the U.S. defense. The Americans were slow to react to almost everything.
Jessica Silva was clever with the ball and, on the best opportunity of the half, broke partially clear on the right side before sending a low shot wide of the far post. Portugal did not test goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher in the half, but its quality build-up offered promise for the second half.
Lavelle received a yellow card in the 39th minute, her second of the tournament, meaning she would miss the round of 16, if her team made it that far.
Two minutes into the second half, the night grew weirder: Fire alarms sounded throughout the stadium and spectators were told to evacuate. The match continued and no one left. After three minutes, the alarms stopped. The U.S. emergency, though, continued.
In the 61st minute, Andonovski turned to the 38-year-old Megan Rapinoe, in place of Sophia Smith. The energy level swelled but the difficulties continued.
And after eight minutes of stoppage time, the U.S. players and their thousands of supporters exhaled.
This is a developing story and will be updated.