The World Cup 2014 Round of 16 was the most heartbreaking thing since the World Cup 2010 Round of 16 when Ghana, in extra time, knocked the US out of the World Cup.
It was a tough game to watch on Tuesday.
Fabian Johnson went out early, forcing Klinsmann to use an early substitution. In a 120-minute game, an inability to get fresh legs on the field when your opponent does can hurt very badly.
Then there was Wondolowski’s missed opportunity.
De Bruyne’s goal. Rom Lukaku’s goal. It was all so bad. I was gutted. Devastated. When I chanted, “I believe that we will win!” I was serious. I did believe.
But then Julian Green scored one to bring us back! And everything was USA momentum! The entire game shifted as the US started to press hard. I’ve seen countless late equalizers. And if you’re Jurgen Klinsmann would you want to go to PKs against Belgium with Tim Howard having the kind of day he was having?
Of course you would!
When the fourth official held up his sign signaling 1 minute of stoppage time, Klinsmann and I both had the same reaction.
Klinsmann on the sideline could be clearly heard on ESPN all across America: “One minute? Why is one fucking minute?”
He was right, too. You’d had substitutions and injuries and we should have had a minimum of three minutes of stoppage time at the end of the second extra time. Maybe we should have had five minutes.
But it was one minute and that minute went by pretty fast.
In my alternate reality we got three minutes, scored the equalizer and Tim Howard blocked every single Belgian PK. Except Lukaku’s. In my alternate reality, Lukaku shot his over the post.
But in the real world, we beat our way out of the Group of Death and it took everything we had to do it. Did you see Clint Dempsey in the Belgium game? He looked like me after I’ve been playing for 15 minutes – exhausted. Clint didn’t have much in it.
Tim Howard had an amazing game, but Tim Howard is an amazing keeper. It’s common for him to make unbelievable saves. It’s just not common for him to have to make so many in one game.
There were other promising things you can take away from the game against Belgium: DeAndre Yedlin was great. If we’d had anybody who could have connected with his crosses we’d have won that game. People keep talking about Julian Green being the future of US soccer – and he may be – but I’d say look to Yedlin. There’s a kid who has the skill to take us far.
And hats off to Kyle Beckerman who was outstanding in this World Cup. I will forever be a Beckerman fan, and I get chills thinking about what a dream come true this was for him.
I have been a fan of Graham Zusi for a long time, and I think he did very well.
Jermaine Jones was also outstanding. DaMarcus Beasley is always, always, always solid, but in the game against Belgium he was extra special. He and Tim Howard both deserved to be rewarded with a win in that game.
Our back four have taken a lot of criticism. Geoff Cameron with the whiffed ball against Portugal, and Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez and even Beasley for allowing Belgium to take so many shots and force Howard to make so many saves.
I’ll say this about our defense: They had a good tournament. They’re not as good as some of the teams they played against, and they were forced to work very, very hard because we did not possess the ball. It’s tough playing on a defense that is constantly on its heels and getting battered. You clear the ball away and look up and it’s coming right back at you.
I know it’s hard – I’ve played in those defenses many times.
You can blame the midfield for not possessing, but the midfield is too deep because they have to come back to help the defense.
The fact is, we weren’t good enough. Germany and Belgium were both better teams. We played them hard and created chances and frustrated them, but we just simply weren’t as good as they were.
I’m bullish on the USA.
There’s a lot of talk about why the US doesn’t do well internationally in soccer. The book Soccernomics has a great section about this and, I think, is dead on right. If you’re interested, check that out.
Ultimately, though, I think you’ve got to believe that it’s coming.
I believe that we will win.
In qualifying for the World Cup, we were the best among the CONCACAF teams, winning our group with room to spare.
It may take another four years or eight years, but soccer players in America are getting better. Right now we are developing top players, and with the MLS continuing to grow, they are getting more opportunities to play at a high level. I think we’ve passed the time when top American players had to look overseas for opportunities.
Yedlin plays for the Sounders. Zusi and Besler both play for Sporting Kansas City. Omar Gonzalez is at LA Galaxy. Beckerman is at Real Salt Lake. Brad Davis is at the Houston Dynamo. Wondo is at the Earthquakes.
These MLS guys played against some of the best players in the world the past couple of weeks. They took Belgium to extra time, held Germany to a single goal, tied a game with Portugal that we should have won and beat an African powerhouse that we have never beaten before.
For the past five Gold Cups, the USMNT has either won or come in second.
I’m a fan of the USMNT. I watch most all of their games – friendlies and CONCACAF and qualifiers. I love the USMNT, and I think Klinsmann (whose contract takes him through the next World Cup) is doing great things with this team.
Our time will come.