With a heavy heart and a valiant effort behind them, the United States head home from Brazil after losing 2-1 to Belgium in the Round of 16.
The U.S. kept level with Belgium throughout regular time, with goalkeeper Tim Howard making numerous saves to keep the Americans in the game. Tied 0-0 in added time of the first 90, the U.S. nearly managed to score, with Chris Wondolowski striking the ball high from seven feet out.
He later found out that he was offside, but the last-gasp strike was as close as the United States came to scoring. Still, having not conceded, the two teams needed a further half an hour of extra time to separate them, before potentially going to penalty shootouts.
The U.S. and Belgium headed to extra time, where Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku were both clinical in their finishing against Jurgen Klinsmann’s men.
De Bruyne’s goal came early in extra time, when he placed a curling low shot past Howard into the side of the net. Substitute striker Lukaku added a second minutes later with a well-placed shot on Howard’s short side, beating the American ‘keeper and giving Belgium a precious two-goal cushion.
However, the U.S. would not be defeated so easily; Michael Bradley would see to that, the Toronto FC midfielder picking out a perfect pass to 19-year-old Julian Green, who controlled the ball in the air and guided it past Belgian ‘keeper Thibaut Courtois to give the U.S. another foot into the game.
With 12 minutes to go until the end of the match, the U.S. mounted a valiant effort to try and find an equalizer. DeAndre Yedlin continued to pump in crosses from the right, while Bradley made his presence felt all across the pitch. Jermain Jones had a few cracks at goal and the U.S. controlled possession. Each time the ball landed to a Belgian player, they pushed forward, looking to waste away valuable seconds and minutes as they counted down the clock holding a 2-1 lead.
With 20 seconds to go in the match, Howard launched a ball into the box and Green crossed the ball over to Yedlin, who mishandled his effort and cleared the ball out for a goal kick. Courtois played the ball back in and the referee blew the final whistle, bringing to a close an incredible story that started two weeks ago in Group G.
The U.S. has been eliminated, but their story will be remembered fondly. This was a team written off on the day of the draw, having been placed with Germany, Portugal and Ghana. A strong win over Ghana gave the U.S. the platform it needed to launch a successful escape from the Group of Death. Against Portugal, the U.S. led by 2-1 until the dying minutes. A loss to Germany and Belgium capped off an otherwise dramatic, exciting and prideful World Cup for the United States.
So, with that, the MLS fraction of the team returns to their respective sides to continue playing, as the 2013/2014 MLS season continues to wind down. Bradley returns to Toronto, Clint Dempsey to Seattle, along with Yedlin. Graham Zusi and Matt Besler return to Kansas, Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando to Real Salt Lake, Brad Davis to Houston and Omar Gonzalez to the LA Galaxy.
Wondolowski, unable to score in what is called “Goonies time” in San Jose – extra time goals, because the Goonies never say die! – returns to the Earthquakes having played in his first and only World Cup.
A few more internationals may soon follow; Jones has been linked to a move to MLS, as has Mix Diskerud. But others, like Besler, Gonzalez and Zusi, may be getting a look at by some European teams as well.
Thus concludes the United States’ World Cup journey in Brazil. They have done the country proud, going further than Portugal, Spain, England and Italy. Underdogs from the beginning, Klinsmann and his team can take their bow with pride, knowing that they exceeded all expectations and performed at the highest level with competency, style and, best of all, offensive and defensive skill of a world-class level.
Eight teams remain in the FIFA World Cup. Will Brazil win it all? Can Germany storm to the finals? Can Argentina or Holland play spoilers, or Belgium, surprise winners? We’ll just have to wait, watch and enjoy as the most exciting World Cup in many a year continues to play out in Brazil!