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Disappointing, Yet Optimistic: A Eulogy For Team USA

Paolo Uggetti |
July 1, 2014 | 6:31 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Tim Howard had a record-breaking 16 saves against Belgium (@NBCSports/Twitter)
Tim Howard had a record-breaking 16 saves against Belgium (@NBCSports/Twitter)

Optimism is a great quality to adhere to, but failure’s first product is always disappointment. And after a 2-1 loss against Belgium, disappointment was the only fitting and genuine emotion.

Yes, the United States almost came back and somehow tied the match in extra-time. But they also had a chance to end it in regulation and didn’t.

Yes, Belgium was held scoreless for the first 90 minutes. But the Americans also failed to score themselves.

Yes, Tim Howard had a record-breaking 16 saves. But on the offensive side, no one returned the favor. 

Yes, young phenom substitute Julian Green scored on his first touch in extra-time. But veterans Clint Dempsey and Chris Wondolowski failed to capitalize on crucial chances throughout the match. 

Whatever was done well, was equally canceled out by something that wasn’t. And in the end, the cons outnumbered the pros; the mistakes mattered more than the successes. There is no way around it: the USMNT lost a match they could have won. 

It seemed that as kick-off approached, the more the belief that this team could win kept on augmenting. On paper, it seemed unlikely, but given the inherent quality this team has had to prove the pundits wrong, a win seemed more than within reach. It seemed possible.

Riddled with world-class, English Premiere League talent, Belgium dominated the match. Just 35 seconds in, Tim Howard was forced to make a marvelous kick save to stop a shot that could have easily put the USMNT in a dark, early hole. 

Even as the Americans settled down and into the game, Howard’s saves proved to be the only constant in the entire match, saving this team from what could have been a blowout. On the other side, the few chances the United States had failed to materialize into anything of value as Courtois patrolled the Belgian net rarely, but just as efficiently as Howard. It had been hyped as an elite goalkeeping matchup, but for the most part, it was only Howard who was being called on to show his talents. And he did, time and time again.

In hockey, when a goalie is unstoppable and simply unbeatable during a game they refer to it as "standing on their head." After today’s match they will have to rename it “Howarding” ... or something like that. Whatever it is, the Everton man showed why even at age 35, he’s not just the best American keeper, he may be one of the best keepers in the world. 

A record-breaking, team saving performance for the ages. If we remember this World Cup for only one thing, please let it be Tim Howard’s goalkeeping. Where this team would be without him, is not a thought any American would like to fathom. 

Solely on Howard’s domination alone, he deserved victory. But his teammates failed to give it to him. His saves were not in vain, but his effort was unmatched by anyone else on that pitch. The defense, as a whole, gave a valiant effort, but the perfect late substitution of a fresh Romelu Lukaku gave the Belgians the much-needed boost to get over the hump and put home not one, but two dream-crushing goals in extra-time. 

Julian Green’s substitution and goal in the 106th minute was a glimmer of hope that once again displayed Klinnsman’s knack for subbing in the right replacements. All for naught, however, as the all-important equalizer never came. Howard contributed a couple more key saves; Bradley made a few more successful passes and executed a beauty of a free kick; Dempsey, Wondo, and Jones had several more chances. But the ball did not find the back of the net. 

It was simply too little, too late. 

Their drive was never questioned, their belief never wavered and their heart was bigger than that of many. But today, in a crucial elimination game, when it mattered the most, their admirable qualities were just not enough. 

The World Cup united Americans in a way few sports have ever accomplished. (Joe Klamar/Getty Images)
The World Cup united Americans in a way few sports have ever accomplished. (Joe Klamar/Getty Images)
The journey was thrilling, exhilarating, and incredibly fun. This team made us truly believe that we could win, and that it wasn’t just a hopeless dream. They made us scream at the TV, both in joy and despair. They made us despise Ghana, the Germans and Ronaldo. They made us bite our nails until there were no more nails to bite. They made us don scarves in the middle of summer. They made us find any reason to hate the Belgians. They made us turn out in parks, stadiums, beaches and bars in numbers that were far too much to count. They gave us drama, euphoria and heartbreak, but most of all, they gave us joy. 

The “what if’s” will surely hurt and further disappoint. But in retrospect, that may turn out to be a blessing. That lingering bad taste after a loss means we're not content with the results. And we shouldn't be. Yeah, it was a good run, but it wasn't great and it could have been better. If we're only satisfied with "good enough" results, then the harsh reality of world-class, international football is that we will never actually be good enough.

For a nation that is finally warming up to the sport of the world and embracing it as their own, it is necessary to not only experience the exuberant victory, but also the gutting cruelty of football, because that is what makes it so addicting. Most importantly, that's the path that must be taken to reach the top.  

As negative as it sounds, it is that exact cruelty that made Spain’s first title in 2010 that much sweeter. One day, when the United States lifts that trophy, we will think back to days like these. Days that we would like to forget, but in the end we will be glad we remember. 

Optimism may not be ideal for now, and disappointment may be far more fitting. But if this team gave us a glimpse of the future of American football, it certainly looks very bright.

And despite the heartbreak of Brazil, when the World Cup comes back around in four years, we will believe that we can win once again. 

You can reach Staff Reporter Paolo Uggetti here, or follow him on Twitter



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