We didn’t deserve that.
After uniting behind an oft-forgotten sport with more fervor and passion than ever before in the nation’s history, we didn’t deserve to see it end like that.
The tens of thousands who turned out in Chicago’s Soldier Field didn’t deserve to be sent home like that. The millions watching, from Atlantic to Pacific, didn’t deserve to be squashed, as they were, underneath the other shoe when it finally dropped – when Belgium scored twice in extra time and withstood an American onslaught to win 2-1 and knock the United States out of the World Cup.
They, we, deserved better.
Except, and here’s the thing, we really didn’t.
There’s a reason most thoroughbreds never take part in horse racing’s best, most challenging races – Grade I’s. Because most thoroughbreds don’t possess the class of the horses meant to win those races. They’re a cut below.
They are, if we’re being honest with ourselves, the equine equivalent of U.S. Men’s soccer. Because, if, again, we’re being honest, U.S. Men’s soccer is a cut below – a truth made clear in the side’s 2-1 loss to Belgium.
Though the game’s result was in doubt throughout much of its 120-minutes, its better team never really was – even if the Americans should have won the match, with a victory on the foot of Chris Wondolowski in a must-score situation at the death of regulation.
Regardless of the score, Belgium was always better. Decisively. They were clearly, painfully the better team, with the U.S.’s disconcerting lack of class displayed far too often.
In counter attack, the U.S. was no match for Belgium’s speed, and in the midfield, they were no match for their skill – with the U.S. showing very little of their own. For much of the game, American passes were ill-concieved or poorly placed, and their touches left much to be desired – allowing the Belgians a wealth of counter opportunities for which the American defense was no match.
For which, really, only goalie Tim Howard had an answer. The ten in front of him – with a few notable exceptions like DeMarcus Beasley – did little to help him, yielding 38 Belgian shots and forcing the keeper to make an astonishing, awe-inspiring 16 saves.
The goalie saved the U.S. from a worse, less respectable finish on Tuesday – and nearly shined bright enough, even in defeat, to obscure the shadowy truth that the U.S. didn’t deserve to make the World Cup’s last eight, because they still do not possess the class of the teams that belong there.
He nearly shined bright enough to keep us from seeing clearly that there are questions that need to be answered about the team’s defense, which looked suspect again after playing a world-class game against Germany; and about the team’s midfield, which struggled up the middle with its should-be best player, Michael Bradley, failing to find his best, or even mediocre game, throughout the World Cup; and about the team’s coach, who, after weakening that midfield by leaving home the team’s most prolific World Cup scorer, Landon Donvan, seemed far too willing to cede possession and invite his skilled opponents to attack that suspect defense.
Indeed, Tim Howard nearly shined bright enough to keep us from seeing the truth that the U.S. still has a long road to haul before it can be considered one of the world’s best.
But while we evaluate the shadowy truths of this team’s deficiencies – the ones Howard couldn’t quite blot out – it’s important to also stare into that metaphorical light and bask in what he, and his teammates, did manage to prove.
That even if they’re not world class, they can compete.
In a game they should have lost, the U.S. stared down an apparent arch nemesis, Ghana – who had knocked them out of the last two World Cups – and found a way to win, showing a determination and fight any championship team needs. Against a Portuguese side well better than their own, the U.S. unquestionably played the better game, and deserved better than the tie they took home – and displayed, in the process, a midfield capable of controlling a match through possession and an offense capable of creating and capitalizing on scoring chances. And, though they lost to both, they pushed to the brink a German team some consider the world’s best – leaning on a defensive effort of which the world’s best would be envious – and a Belgian team many pegged as the World Cup’s dark horse.
Facing the group of death and one of the tournament’s only undefeated, untied teams, the U.S. emerged with a respectable, under those circumstances, -1 goal differential, and showed flashes of forthcoming brilliance in the speed and skill of 20-year-old DeAndre Yedlin and the goal-scoring capability of 19-year-old Julian Green – and cemented the standing of Jermaine Jones as a quality midfielder, Clint Dempsey as a world class attacker, and Tim Howard as one of the planet’s top-5 goalkeepers.
And they showed that though the 2014 World Cup result is eerily similar to the 2010 one – a 2-1, extra time loss in the round of 16 – the team is wholly different. That this year’s edition has more skill, more grit, and more potential than any that came before it.
And that though they weren’t capable of winning this World Cup, they are capable of playing with anyone.
That they have what it takes, if they put it all together, to be a force worthy of the world’s fear.
That they’re getting better.
And that four years from now…well…
I believe that…
Author: Joe Bianchino
Joe Bianchino is a writer, producer, and radio host located in upstate New York. He is a life-long New York sport fan, Chelsea supporter, and Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter @JoeBNTS. Email him at Joe@noticketsports.com.