Quarter-finals: France – Colombia – Belgium – Costa Rica
World Cup progress: Round of 16
Team rating: 7
Top scorer: Dempsey (2)
Against significant odds, the USA managed to impress in Brazil and show signs pointing towards a bright future for football in America, says Lorenzo Vicini.
Jurgen Klinsmann and The Cardiac Kids
Believe. It was the common theme that echoed throughout the USA’s World Cup campaign in Brazil. Despite leaving one of their best players in national team history at home and playing in the proclaimed ‘Group of Death’, Jurgen Klinsmann and his Americans believed the Red, White and Blue could progress in this tournament. The USA did just that and earned accolades and respect along the way, positioning themselves for an even deeper run in 2018.
Heading into the World Cup, all the pressure was on the German Coach after he left Landon Donovan out of the USA’s final 23-man roster. The reaction by the public and the media left little doubt to the task Klinsmann faced – justify the decision by surpassing expectations.
A strong start against Ghana was necessary if the USA were to have any chance of getting out of the group. Ghana were the proverbial thorn-in-the-side of Team USA for the past two World Cups, preventing them from getting out of the group in 2006 and eliminating them in the Round of 16 in 2010. Thus, it was no secret that the Americans were ready to avenge the previous defeats.
Yet, not even the best of optimists could’ve imagined a more perfect start to the match. Just 34 seconds in, Clint Dempsey found the back of the net with a brilliant individual effort, set up by a Jermaine Jones through-ball. After 20 minutes, however, the Americans were dealt with an injury that would alter their line-up for the rest of the tournament as striker Jozy Altidore went down with a hamstring strain. Then, 80 minutes after the opening goal, Ghana would equalise and it appeared that the USA would have to settle for a draw. But the Americans were not finished and a towering header from 21-year-old defender John Brooks gave Team USA an excellent, hard-fought victory.
Forced to manage without Altidore, Klinsmann moved Dempsey up top for the USA’s clash with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. The Portuguese needed a result to stay alive while the Americans wanted to avoid a difficult scenario in their final match against Germany. This time, the roles were reversed as a defensive miscue from USA defender Geoff Cameron led to a wide open opportunity for Luis Nani to slot past Tim Howard in the fifth minute of the match. With their backs against the wall, the Americans were bailed out by several quality saves from Howard to keep the scoreline at 1-0. Their resolve was tested, though, as midfielder Michael Bradley had a certain goal cleared off the line amid other chances.
That resolve, though, was rewarded in the 64th minute, when Jones gathered the ball outside the box from a corner, touched it past his marker and unleashed a wonderful, curling shot that found the back of the net as Portuguese goalkeeper Beto was left hopelessly watching it go in. It got even better as Dempsey would literally chest-in the go-ahead goal in the 81st minute. Not only were the USA on track to advance, but they would have a chance at topping the group.
Alas, it wasn’t meant to be as a frustrated Cristiano Ronaldo unlocked a moment of sheer brilliance in the game’s final minute. Given a little too much space after a poor giveaway, Cristiano delivered a pin-point cross that found onrushing Silvestre Varela’s head to beat Howard and draw level with the match’s final action. It was heartbreak but not hopelessness for Team USA.
There were many headlines and even more scenarios surrounding the USA’s chances of advancing in their final match against Germany. Yet, for all the chatter and worry, Klinsmann’s side managed to accomplish its objective despite losing a rather lacklustre match 1-0 thanks to a goal from German bomber Thomas Muller. The result between Portugal and Ghana was enough to see the Americans through to the knockout stages. Furthermore, it marked the first time in the nation’s history that the USA advanced to the Round of 16 in consecutive World Cups.
The Round of 16 match against Belgium provided all the thrills of the Americans’ first two matches and was exacerbated by the offensive firepower that the Belgians boasted. No matter the result, this match will be remembered for years to come as the one in which Tim Howard made a legitimate claim to being a world-class keeper.
As the American defence continued to be unlocked by the Belgian onslaught, Howard was an impenetrable wall between the sticks, denying each and every opportunity that transpired over the game’s first 90 minutes. It’ll also be remembered for the heart-wrenching miss by striker Chris Wondolowski – seen by many as the man who took Donovan’s place on the roster – in front of goal in the 92nd minute that would’ve stolen a victory for the United States not seen since the Revolutionary War.
Belgium finally beat the heroic Howard in the first half of extra time, once through Kevin de Bruyne and then again through his club teammate Romelu Lukaku. Yet, the USA once again did not give up. Youngster Julian Green came on in the second period of extra time and scored on his debut, re-opening the match thanks to a delightful lob from Bradley and an even better, composed volley from the 19-year-old. Team USA had one more incredible chance to draw level from a well-worked set piece, but Dempsey was denied by Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois from point-blank range. The USA’s dramatic run in Brazil was over.
The Cardiac Kids did better than expected in South America. Beyond the results, an incredible, growing number of supporters turned out for Klinsmann’s side and there is a positive outlook for the future of football – soccer – in the USA. With the popularity of the sport at an all-time high, the key is to continue to work on the evident shortcomings still found in the Americans’ style of play, primarily developing better possession-based play and continuing to develop talent at home. After shining in Brazil, the future is bright for the USA.
The Coach – Jurgen Klinsmann
The German-born Coach did it his way at this year’s World Cup. Despite some tactical nuances and peculiar substitutions, Klinsmann was successful for bringing the USA out of the Group of Death and nearly making the quarter-finals after 120 minutes of ferocity against Belgium.
Player of the Tournament – Tim Howard
Goalkeeper Tim Howard was consistently called into action and rose to the occasion each and every time. His 16 saves in the USA’s 2-1 loss to Belgium in the Round of 16 were the most in a World Cup match since 1966. Howard was heroic in Brazil.
Memorable moment – A brilliant introduction
Clint Dempsey’s goal 34 seconds into the USA’s first match at the World Cup against Ghana showed the Americans weren’t afraid of the ‘Group of Death’.
|01-Jul-14||Belgium||2-1||USA||Round of 16|
For a complete review of the 2014 World Cup, check out the next issue of Soccer Italia, written by the team at Football Italia and available on worldwide subscription.