Blasting Post: Despite elimination in World Cup, U.S. shouldn't be ashamed

by MICHAEL LEONARD | SPORTS EDITOR Published:

For most United States soccer fans, two sentiments prevailed after the team's 2-1 loss in extra time to Belgium. First, that loss really hurt. Second, the U.S. has nothing to be ashamed of and tons to be proud of.

With regards to the game, Belgium finally played the way it was capable of against the U.S. The Red Devils showed they've got quality all over the field and the kind of technical skill that's earned them the title of Belgium's "Golden Generation."

The U.S. had only one answer to all that skill: Tim Howard. If the Yanks' starting goaltender just played his last World Cup game, he certainly saved his best for last. Howard's World Cup-record of 16 saves is unheard of at the international level.

Without his heroics, the Belgians win by at least a 3-0 margin in regulation. Over the last 20 years, quality U.S. goalkeeping has been a constant from Tony Meola to Brad Friedel to Kasey Keller to Howard. That said, Howard's performance eclipsed them all.

The plaudits are raining down on Howard, including one fictitious upload on Wikipedia noting that Howard's performance on July 1 earned him a promotion to U.S. Secretary of Defense. Moves like that show how much the U.S. fan base has taken over during the last few weeks.

Anyone who's been on Facebook or YouTube recently has seen red, white and blue all over. Scenes of people cheering, drumming, hugging and chanting "I Believe That We Will Win!" ad nauseam have flooded the Internet.

Even President Obama was seen leading the chants at the White House.

On the field, with Howard's heroics aside, the Belgium game showed off both the Yanks' weaknesses and strengths, both of which U.S. fans have long known. The weaknesses: A lack of world-class technical and decision-making ability and the team's midfield.

BELGIUM overwhelmed the U.S. because, player-for-player, they were clearly the better team.

Man of the match Roman Lukaku, along with Eden Hazard, Marouan Felini, Jan Vertonghen and Vincent Kompany are all stars in the English Premier League. The U.S has only one true star in the EPL these days: Howard.

The American strengths? Goalkeeping, team spirit and the attitude of never giving up, which was on display in extra time.

After Kevin De Bruyne and Lukaku scored to make 2-0 after the first 15 minutes of extra time, one could have thought the U.S. was going out meekly.

Then, 19-year-old Julian Green -- a controversial inclusion to the U.S. World Cup squad, especially over the likes of Landon Donovan -- stepped up and scored an excellent goal in the 107th minute.

Green became the youngest U.S. goalscorer ever at the World Cup and did it with his first touch of the ball.

It could be argued the Americans' best spell of the game was the final 15 minutes. Only a great save by Belgian keep Thibaut Courtoius kept Clint Dempsey from equalizing off a great set piece in the 114th minute.

That game likely was the last World Cup game for Dempsey, Howard, midfielder Jermaine Jones, who had a solid World Cup and defender DeMarcus Beasley, who became the first American ever to play in four straight World Cups.

That said, the future looks bright for the U.S. What needs to happen between now and the 2018 World Cup is to nurture the next generation and get them playing club soccer in Europe.

These are two things U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has committed to and Klinsmann's contract continues through the Russia World Cup of 2018.

Given how much he got out of this solid, but not quite world-class group, there's no reason he shouldn't be in charge when things kick off in Moscow.

Email: mleonard@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4190

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