Jurgen Klinsmann's side had a chance to make history and continue to captivate a nation on Tuesday but a lacklustre performance saw their World Cup dream end in the second round
By Ives Galarcep in Salvador
For the better part of 94 minutes, it felt inevitable that Belgium would wind up beating United States but for every minute of regulation play and three minutes of extra time the Americans held on, giving their fans hope that they could pull off an upset against the star-studded Rode Duivels.
When the final whistle blew to end normal time, they had somehow staved off Belgium’s relentless attack, with Tim Howard having the best World Cup game of his career. Unfortunately, what USA needed more than a hot goalkeeper and tough defence were creative players to generate chances and keep the ball away from Belgium.
|WORLD CUP SOCIAL HUB
|Keep up with all the latest news from Brazil and get involved in the debate on Twitter with our new World Cup Social Hub|
The Americans did not go out without a fight, though, responding to the two goals with a frantic and exciting finish that nearly saw them pull off a miracle comeback. Julian Green's volley gave them life but Thibaut Courtois made a key late save to preserve the victory and deny his opponents' desperate fight for survival.
The Belgium victory was a fair result, even if it was a sad one for an American team who had inspired a nation and helped boost the sport’s profile back home. They needed to be at their best if they were going to beat the Belgians but failed to deliver until it was already too late.
USA closed out the match with a strong 15 minutes that gave Belgium all they could handle and provided a teasing glimpse of what might have been if the Americans had played the entire match with the same sense of urgency that they showed in the second half of extra time.
It was too little, too late, though, and we are left to consider what this World Cup means for the US team going forward.
What we did see was the side continue to struggle against elite teams and fail to retain sufficient possession. The lack of world-class midfielders continues to be a weakness, as demonstrated in the losses to Germany and Belgium.
Unfortunately, there are no Xavi-like players or Andrea Pirlo-types on the immediate horizon but we did see some impressive young talent step up during this World Cup - especially on Tuesday.
DeAndre Yedlin was forced into the match as an injury replacement for Fabian Johnson and he wound up having a major impact, troubling Belgium with his speed and showing fearlessness that surely impressed European scouts.
|World Cup Infographics|
|Uncover the statistics behind the World Cup with our new Unibet infographic series|
Jurgen Klinsmann talked recently of older players needing to make the most of their last World Cup and one player who did that on Tuesday was DaMarcus Beasley. The 32-year-old full-back, a veteran of four previous competitions, had arguably the best World Cup match of his career, providing sorely needed energy and defensive quality on the left side of the field.
As much as there were some bright spots, USA ultimately lost because of players who failed to get the job done. Graham Zusi had a nightmare day for the Americans, committing turnovers and getting beaten defensively. He looked outmatched for much of the day and gave the team little when the Americans needed the midfield to shine.
Bradley stepped his game up in extra time and did have some dangerous passes that created chances but the final verdict on his match Tuesday will be much like the rest of his World Cup - a tournament unfulfilled, in which he failed to meet expectations. At 26, Bradley should have another finals in him but, after starring in the 2010 tournament, he leaves Brazil having fallen well short of what was expected of him.
Chris Wondolowski had his chance to impress after waiting all tournament but he wasted his opportunity, failing to take advantage of chances that came his way and leading plenty to wonder if Klinsmann had put his faith in the wrong forward.
So was this World Cup a success for the Americans? Based on the attention that the team were able to generate back home and the fact that they advanced out of the Group of Death, it is hard not to call the tournament a positive. But when we talk about Tuesday and the chances that this team had to make history and beat a Belgium side who are talented but vulnerable, it was a wasted opportunity to keep the dream going.
We have been here before. Much like in 2002, when the Americans outplayed Germany only to lose in the quarter-finals, and in 2010, when they were beaten in extra time by Ghana in a tournament where a deep run was a possibility. In each of those instances, there was a feeling that they could have gone a step further but ultimately fell short.
It will be up to Klinsmann now to work on continuing to develop the team and the development program, and working with the next generation of talent, something on which he has already begun to work. When you consider players like Yedlin, Green and John Brooks, the future is bright for United States.
It is tough to think about that after this defeat, as the World Cup dream died, but when you look at the way in which this team fought against some of the world’s best sides and consider the impact that this tournament has had back in the States, generating unprecedented interest, there is indeed a silver lining in the only dark cloud to be found in this sunny coastal city.