PHOENIX, AZ - Team USA’s World Cup run is over, knocked out of the Round of 16 by Belgium in a 2-1 match that ran into thirty minutes of extra time.
Among the lessons learned by the Americans in World Cup 2014: 1) The United States has one of the best goal keepers in the world; and 2) The Americans have to improve on the offensive attack if it hopes to be better by World Cup 2018 in Russia.
Tim Howard is the reason Team USA was able to make it to the Knock out round of 16. Howard is the leader and inspiration who helped guide the team (albeit not an easy ride) through the so-called “Group of Death”. Howard managed 16 saves against Belgium, more than any World Cup goalie since 1966, giving the United States hope until the very end.
Even as upsetting as this loss is, Team USA still had chances to win the game and advance to the quarter-finals. Chris Wondolowski could have ended the game late in the second half of regulation is he could have gotten a better shot on a ball that was directly in front of the Belgium goal. And with the game hanging in the balance, Clint Dempsey had a chance to tie the game and send it to penalty kicks, but came up just short.
The key for the United States is to learn how to close out games and capitalize on those opportunities, because that’s what great teams do! Especially in World Cup play.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann said after the match that two solid years have gone into developing team USA and with the improved play in MLS, he feels good that we are starting to close the gap between the United States and the elite soccer powers of the world.
The good news for soccer fans is that we watched! We watched from our homes, from local bars, sports stadiums and arenas and we loved it! We stood and cheered and sat with people we didn’t even know, cheering for Team USA against every team they faced. ESPN’s ratings were at an all-time high for soccer coverage!
In essence, we believed we could win! Although we were knocked out in the “knock out” round, we opened our eyes to soccer, at least for a few weeks! It gave us something to cheer about. It was the perfect distraction from the economic issues and border conflicts and health care struggles. Team USA’s ability to find a way out of Group H and move on the Round of 16 was exactly what we needed at this point in time. We now have heroes who wear soccer jerseys; Tim Howard is a household name, along with Clint Dempsey, who played on despite breaking his nose in game one against Ghana.
Social media buzzed every time Team USA played and we followed it intensely, sharing our thoughts on Twitter and Facebook without hesitation. Thousands of Americans traveled to Brazil to watch in person and despite the security warnings during the weeks before, robbery, burglary and assault never made it into the local newspaper or on our TV sets. We were focused on the games, the wins and the stars.
The haircuts, the athletes and the girls in the stands occupied our thoughts over the last few weeks and to see America play into extra time against one of the favorites in the tournament, gave us instant or renewed national pride!
Some soccer fans even started a petition to rename Ronald Reagan Airport to “Tim Howard” airport.
The players on the team repeatedly said they noticed the support both in Brazil and around the country and it’s exactly what propelled them and motivated them to succeed. And the fact that nobody gave us a chance to win, was exactly what we needed to spend hours watching soccer, when it’s not typically where we focus our attention.
There’s still soccer to be played, just not by Team USA. On Friday, July 4, France will take on Germany and Brazil will face Colombia. And then on Saturday, July 5, Argentina will take on Belgium (wish it was the USA) and Netherlands will square off against Costa Rica.
For soccer fans, it doesn’t get much better than that! For those of us who are casual fans, something tells me that after the Americans nearly pulled off an upset, we might still be watching!