The run had to end sometime, unfortunately for US fans, it was today; at the hands of the Belgians. An absolutely marvelous performance from Tim Howard was not enough to keep the US in the tournament. Howard finished the game with 16 saves, the most in a World Cup in 50 years.
As Chase Ruttig pointed out, Kyle Beckerman was out of the US lineup in favor of Geoff Cameron. It was clear from the opening seconds that the USMNT were going to play defensively, and that’s what they did. Just 43 seconds in Belgium forced Howard to make his first save. Divock Origi broke free from the US defense and had his low shot blocked away by Howard, just one of Belgium’s 39 shots on the day.
It seemed to be the classic problem of the US in this World Cup, they give up an early chance and settle in to defend for 90 minutes. Well, that’s exactly what happened. The US defense spent most of its time inside their own penalty area, and absorbed all the pressure from the Belgians. Shot after shot kept flying, and Howard kept saving them; he had some help from Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler who played terrific. A 32nd minute injury to Fabian Johnson forced Klinsmann to bring on 20 year-old DeAndre Yedlin, and the youngster played almost as well as he could have. He caused problems for the Belgium defense when he got forward, but could not always get back to defend, which left holes in the US defense.
After a few more Belgium scares, the US salvaged a 0-0 score into the half.
The second half was more of the same for the US. Belgium kept hammering away at Tim Howard, but they could not get through. Chance after chance passed and the USA, somehow, had not given in. Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones strung together a few minutes of well-worked possession midway through the half, but the final ball was always lacking. Neither side could break the deadlock, and it appeared extra time was certain. However, in the 2nd minute of stoppage time the US saw their best chance of the night. Chris Wondolowski had been freed up just a few yards out from goal, but had his first time shot fly well over the bar. That was the chance the US had to win the game, so, so close.
Into extra time we went, and the US still had to play defensively. Just 3 minutes in Belgium finally beat Howard. It was similar to the Ghana game from 4 years ago, it appeared. De Bruyne had gotten free after a poor clearance from Matt Besler and put it past Howard for a lead. Still, the US had a fighting chance with 27 minutes of ET looming. But it appeared the US were finished in the 105th minute, as Romelu Lukaku had muscled past Matt Besler and beaten his Everton teammate to go 2-0 up on the Americans. It was all over from there, right?
Nope. To begin the 2nd period of ET, Jurgen Klinsmann brought on Julian Green for his first World Cup appearance. And sure enough, to begin the period, Bradley play a great ball over the top of the Belgium defense and it was wonderfully flicked in by Green. The US had life, and 12 minutes of time to make up another goal. The 19-year-old had lived up to all the hype to give American fans a glimmer of hope. Just 2 minutes later the US nearly equalized as Jermaine Jones just missed the far post on a put back. The Yanks kept pushing and pushed some more.
In the 113th minute the US had a free kick from 25 yards out, and pulled trickery that almost gave them a goal. Michael Bradley stepped to take it with Clint Dempsey standing in the wall. As Bradley played the ball short, Dempsey made a run off the wall and into the box; Alejandro Bedoya connected with Dempsey who had his shot blocked by a diving Courtois, and that was it. The USMNT had lost and were out of the World Cup, but there is a sense of great accomplishment that surrounds them.
America, over the course of this journey, has become one with this team and this sport. Cities and towns across the country slowed to a standstill as Americans filled stadiums and squares to watch their team play, and defy expectations. No longer was soccer thought of as a “niche” sport, it had swept the country, and that is amazing. Television ratings for this World Cup are unreal, and that includes non-US games. Soccer has taken America by storm, and that is because this team truly held the belief of “One Nation One Team.” Jurgen Klinsmann has developed the game to unimaginable stages in this great country, and it can only get better from here. This nation truly believed in our national team, and we have to keep it going for MLS. Support the game at all levels, America. This is your league and your national team. We should all be proud to be American right now.