Earlier this evening, as I was walking my dog while still wearing my U.S. soccer jersey, some guy in a red, white and blue bandana came up to me and shook his head.
“Tough one,” he said.
“But Tim Howard.”
The entire conversation lasted about as long as it took for my dog to take a piss. But there was really nothing more that needed to be said.
In what was an all-too-predictable way for the Americans to lose, Tim Howard played OUT OF HIS FREAKING MIND in goal and the entire team showed a lot of heart … but the gutsy, gritty (fill in another familiar adjective here) U.S. team simply did not have enough talent as the guys from Europe, bowing out of the World Cup with a 2-1 extra-time loss to Belgium on Tuesday.
Yes, it sucked. But it sure was fun while it lasted.
Let’s start with Howard. Of all the questions this U.S. team had coming into the World Cup, the play of Howard was never one of them. He’s an elite goalkeeper and he showed the Belgians why, making 16 saves – the most in a World Cup in 48 years – and keeping the game scoreless after 90 minutes of regulation when it had no business being scoreless.
Despite the loss, Tim Howard’s record setting performance was monumental. pic.twitter.com/eaqF2Whkxq— ESPN (@espn) July 1, 2014
Howard eventually became mortal in extra time, allowing the Belgians to score twice. And then things got kinda crazy.
Julian Green, who came in as the last sub (probably too late), scored a goal to make it 2-1 and give everyone hope. Yes, that Julian Green – the 19-year-old German-American whose international and professional soccer career has been going on only slightly longer than the last Game of Thrones season and whose inclusion on the World Cup roster raised more than a few eyebrows.
USA's future is bright. Julian Green (19 yrs, 25 days) is youngest to score at World Cup since Lionel Messi in 2006. pic.twitter.com/dGDlvzjkhR— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) July 1, 2014
So Green scored and everyone got all excited and then the U.S. did some crazy play on a free kick that looked like it was drawn up by Norman Dale and nearly scored and everyone yelled at the TV and then there were a few chances and then OH NO TIME IS RUNNING OUT HOW CAN THERE ONLY BE ONE MINUTE OF STOPPAGE TIME??? and then the game ended and everyone crumpled into a ball and … and … that’s it.
Of course, there will be plenty of postmortems for this team in the coming days. But in the immediate aftermath of the World Cup-ending loss, there seem to be two schools of thought from fans:
The first and more prevailing one: “I’m proud to support a team that showed so much heart and rallied an entire country behind it like we’ve never seen before."
The second: “Heart isn’t enough. Neither is simply getting to the knockout round. We shouldn’t be happy with this.”
As someone who generally gets more excited than angry about sports, I fall more in line with the first group. But the second group has a valid point, too.
The U.S. has qualified for the last seven World Cups. They’ve made it out of the group stage in three of the last four World Cups. Those are nice accomplishments that few other countries can match.
But is it time for the U.S. to take the next leap and join the select countries that expect to challenge for a World Cup title every four years?
#USMNT gave Americans something to be proud of. Quality still a little behind elite nations, same with depth. But heart. So much heart.— Andrew Wiebe (@andrew_wiebe) July 1, 2014
With Green scoring and 20-year-old DeAndre Yedin playing a terrific game at right back after being forced into action due to an injury, you can argue the foundation and the youth is there.
But for some, it’s probably hard to get excited about a foundation when the World Cup only comes around every four years (though there is of course, the Gold Cup and Confederations Cup and other tournaments soccer diehards will get excited about).
So are we almost there? Perhaps. But that’s probably a conversation best served for another day.
In the meantime, let’s remember Clint Dempsey scoring a goal 30 seconds into the first game and later bleeding out of his face … and John Brooks somehow becoming a household name … and Jermaine Jones scoring an absolute screamer … and Cristiano Ronaldo not doing enough to help Portugal advance but still managing to help the U.S. get out of the “Group of Death” … and Timmy Freaking Howard … and the millions of people gathering at watch parties and living rooms.
Yeah, so it was a fun ride. Hopefully the next one will last longer.