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article imageOp-Ed: Crushed — U.S. dream dies with defeat to Belgium

By Mike Rossi     Jul 1, 2014 in Sports
Crushing. That's the only way to describe it for US soccer fans. Outclassed by Belgium all game, the United States had an incredible opportunity to win in regulation and whiffed right on the doorstep.
It didn't take a soothsayer to predict the impending doom awaiting in extra-time.
Despite a heroic effort from US Goalkeeper Tim Howard — who much deservedly won Man of the Match — the United States' dreams of continued World Cup glory finally came to their tragic end.
Candidly, Jurgen Klinnsman and company should consider themselves lucky to have survived a relentless Belgian attack long enough to make it into an extra 30 minutes of play. The fact the game didn't end 4-0 or 5-0 in regulation was a miracle of and in itself.
The Belgium front, lead by a combination of Hazard, De Bruyne, Lukaku and Origi never had any difficulty in getting time and room for world-class shots, only in getting balls behind the equally world-class hands and feet of Tim Howard.
By the time the final whistle blew finalizing the 2-1 tally in favor of Belgium, Howard had faced 38 shots — 27 of which were on goal — and 19 corner kicks, an offensive barrage unlike any the 2014 World Cup has seen to date.
The man was a human Alamo, holding back a siege of Red Devils until the bitter-end.
The 16 saves made by Tim Howard were not just impressive, they were record-breaking: he stopped more goals in a single World Cup game than any other goalkeeper in the tournament's history (the statistic has only been kept for the last 50 years).
Howard was brilliant. His teammates were not.
Sans Julian Green's spectacular finish in the 107th minute of play, the Americans looked aloof, weak and utterly uninspiring. Sure the team had some bright spots, but on the whole they were utterly out-hustled and out-gunned.
For those who couldn't watch, the match highlights say it all.
The United States failed to string together any semblance of a consistent offensive threat.
On the rare occasion the Belgian defense was tested, it had little to no trouble in clearing the ball to the safety of midfield.
Yet even though Belgium stood head-and-shoulders above the US as the better side, they nearly ruined all of their hard work with a costly mistake during the second minute of stoppage time in the final half of regulation.
Following a poor clear attempt from the Belgian defense, American Jermaine Jones headed the ball high-up into the air where it eventually landed at the feet of an unmarked and unaccounted for Chris Wondolowski at the top of the six-yard box.
With Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois in poor position to challenge, Wondolowski had time to trap and shoot at a virtually wide-open net or pass three yards to a definitively wide-open Clint Dempsey.
Instead, Wondolowski chose to attempt a mid-air one-timer which he grotesquely mishit, sending the ball and American hope for passage into the Quarterfinals sailing over the crossbar.
Granted, Wondolowski should in no way shoulder the blame for the loss — the entire American front line looked awful — but given the quality of Tim Howard's performance and the knowledge of what undoubtedly could-have-been, it's extraordinarily difficult to look at the attempt as anything but an inexcusable blunder.
One can't help but wonder what the result might have been if Landon Donovan had made the team — If he had substituted into the game during the 72' minute for Graham Zusi instead of Wondolowski.
Maybe if the ball had fallen at Donovan's feet, the United States would be preparing for a July 5th matchup against Argentina instead of packing their bags to fly home.
Maybe.
Maybe not.
At the end of it all, Belgium goes on and the US does not, that is the way of the World Cup.
Yes, it's a tough pill to swallow, but the United States needs to take this setback in stride, building on the national energy, pride and momentum of 2014 as well as it's on-field lessons.
Here's to Brazil.
Here's to the 2014 World Cup.
Pat yourselves on the back USA, it was one helluva run.
Tomorrow we start practice for 2018.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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