The bitter, crushing disappointment over the U.S. soccer team’s loss to Belgium Tuesday — Wondo! — is bound to linger in the same way that Red Sox fans still think of Bucky “Bleeping” Dent or Star Wars fans think of “The Phantom Menace.” But Americans are nothing if not resilient, and as time passes and our national dejection lifts, we should be able to appreciate the bright sports from this World Cup run.
1. We were never supposed to make it this far. Remember the “Group of DEATH!!!”? When the U.S. was drawn into the same group as Germany, Cristiano Ronaldo, and our old nemesis Ghana, no one thought the team would go anywhere. The analysts were near unanimous. Even the most partisan fan had to admit that U.S. chances of advancing were slim to none. Famous soccer fan Jon Stewart said that the U.S. “would have a lovely vacation to Brazil” and that would be about it. Then came the win against Ghana. Then the creditable (if heartbreaking) draw with Portugal. Even the loss to Germany came with the pride that we didn’t get whipped the way that Portugal did (which ultimately was the reason the U.S. team advanced). Without falling on platitudes, it was an achievement just to make the round of 16.
2. Sir Tim Howard of New Jersey. Seriously, the U.S. needs to consider adopting this whole knighthood thing, because I cannot think of a more appropriate accolade for Tim Howard. A World Cup record-breaking 16 saves in one match kept the U.S. team in the game far longer than they probably deserved to be. Howard seems to have found a happy club home at Everton and it would be something of a shock if he were to leave, but don’t be surprised if a Champions League club makes a bid for his services. Here are all of the saves:
3. The defense was solid. Tim Howard was obviously the man of the hour, but a good amount of praise should go to a defense that dealt with the continual buzzing presence of Belgium’s attacking players Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne. Scott Farkus look-a-like De Bruyne was particularly troublesome, but until the introduction of the physical power of Lukaku, a back four of Besler, Gonzalez, Beasley, and Johnson (who was replaced after 23 minutes with the very impressive youngster DeAndre Yedlin) handled everything Belgium could throw at them. Throughout the tournament, the U.S. showed a surprising amount of organization under Klinsmans, and it should help team confidence through to the next Cup.
4. Some great goals. In addition to Howard’s super-heroic performance the U.S. squad can also walk away from this tournament knowing it scored some truly spectacular goals. Clint Dempsey’s lightning fast opener against Ghana, Jermaine Jones’s rocket against Portugal, and now Julian Green’s first touch volley to keep the U.S. alive in overtime. The U.S. team kept fighting until the end, and if Chris Wondolowski had been able to keep his shot on target, we might be having a very different conversation.
5. The future is bright. Howard will be 39 at the next Cup and may very well still be in the sticks. Dempsey will probably be on the bench, not a starter. Beasley will be long retired, and Jones probably not far behind him…but in the performances of Graham Zusi, Green and Yedlin, the future of this team and the fruits of Klinsmann’s focus on youth are starting to take shape. Watch out, Russia 2018.
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- World Cup 2014: Your Guide to All 32 Teams
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