Nothing was easy for the United States at World Cup 2014. From being drawn into the Group of Death to a travel schedule that had the Americans rack up 8,900 air miles to reach their games, there were challenges, but no excuses.
Instead the United States didn’t worry about the climate or its opponents and almost did enough to return to the quarterfinals of the World Cup for the first time since 2002. It took extra time and the introduction of Romelu Lukaku for Belgium to finally find the invention to beat goalkeeper Tim Howard and defeat the United States 2-1.
In a World Cup full of drama and surprises, it almost doesn’t make sense that the eight quarterfinalists also won their groups. Surely there had to be a surprise team among the final eight. When Argentina wiggled out a win over Switzerland earlier on Tuesday, it seemed like the stage was set for the United States.
In its first three matches of the World Cup Belgium only had the lead for 24 minutes and early on seemed set to change the pattern. In the first two minutes of the match the Red Devils had won two corner kicks. The United States didn’t break and by the end of regulation Howard had recorded 12 of his 16 saves.
- Word cannot describe Tim Howard’s World Cup. At 35 years of age this might have been Howard’s last World Cup and he was playing like he didn’t want it to end. Howard’s performance against Belgium will be talked about for years to come. In a tournament where the United States struggled to gain possession and defended for long periods of time, Howard was the anchor that gave the U.S. a chance.
- The right side is the right side. Fabian Johnson’s bright play on the right flank was consistent until his game against Belgium was cut short by a hamstring injury. DeAndre Yedlin stepped in and it always seemed if the United States was going to make something happen against Belgium it would be through the speed and skill of Yedlin. Against Portugal, Yedlin played higher in midfield with Johnson behind him and the combination worked. We should also note the play of DaMarcus Beasley on the left side. Four years ago few would have predicted that Beasley would start in Brazil, but he did and he impressed.
- Jurgen Klinsmann knows what he is doing. Perhaps Landon Donovan would have made a difference, since Jozy Altidore’s World Cup was cut short when he suffered a hamstring injury in the first game against Ghana. We will never know, but we do know Klinsmann made all the right moves including the use of former Maryland Terrapins Graham Zusi and Omar Gonzalez. Zusi finished the World Cup as a starter after he came off the substitute’s bench in the opener against Ghana and delivered the game-winning assist on a corner kick. Gonzalez started the last two games in Brazil and reminded us why he is the highest paid defender in Major League Soccer. Klinsmann additions John Brooks and Julian Green scored and in short he seemed to push all the right buttons.
Prediction: The United States does believe and so does a growing legion of fans. Soccer is not trying to replace any sport of take over, but its place in the American sports landscape will only continue to grow.