The United States crashed out of the World Cup today, 2-1 against Belgium, and perhaps the verb “crash” is too strong of a word.
“Exited ceremoniously,” perhaps, or “finished valiantly”; then again, when your goalkeeper has to make a World Cup record 16 saves* to keep the score from becoming a rout, that’s as close to crashing out of the tournament as you can come without it actually being reflected on the scoresheet.
Nevertheless, the Americans defied the odds, made the knockout round and nearly bumblef*cked its way into a quarterfinal date with Argentina. Although, that result would’ve negated how well and exceptional the Belgians–lead by goals from Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne–played, controlling the midfield, dominating possession and doing damn near everything besides putting the ball into the back of the net.
On the surface, this is the United States national team’s preferred way to play the game of soccer against elite opponents: dig into the dirt, try to make zero mistakes on defense and counter-attack like a motherf*cker, which it couldn’t do until approximately the last 15 minutes of extra time. Ohio State football fans will recognize this as “Tressel Ball,” but it’s hard to shake an antiquated style in one huge tournament.
It’s a tripe at this point, but there were glimmers of hope for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, assuming Juergen Klinsmann’s still manning the ship**. First, Julian Green’s goal in the 107th minute, on his first touch of the World Cup, which he struck off a beautifully timed and weighted Michael Bradley pass. The soccer wunderkind, who most recently experienced the boom-bust cycle of the American sports hype machine, flipped an enigmatic placement on the squad into at least a semblance of reason for his inclusion with that strike. And his resulting runs and play were a far cry from the baby doe impression he did in pre-World Cup friendlies when he saw playing time.
Pep, if you’re reading your favorite Hip-Hop website right now, give the kid some minutes this fall. Please.
Second, Seattle Sounders defender DeAndre Yedlin played like a G. The 20-year-old came on for an injured Fabian Johnson during regular time and began to give the United States the pace and balls the wingback position for the squad has recently lacked. He didn’t track back at times–including several later in the game–but crashed the right flank in a Dani Alves mold that lead to several dangerous chances.
Coupled with John Brooks’ great substitute appearance in the match against Ghana, Klinsmann’s youth prophecy seems accurate, his decision to cut Landon Donovan now a distant memory. The United States now more resembles a soccer team that can pass, attack and keep possession (the last 15 against Belgium; the Portugal game) than one that bunkers for 90 minutes. How’s that? It’s finally starting to show that it has the players to do so in Green, Yedlin and Brooks.
While the American soccer media is also waiting to see if a certain 17-year-old will also be added into the mix, what the national team already has is promising. It wasn’t the result the casual fan can appreciate, but it’s something long-time fans feel more confident than ever is on the horizon.
* — By the way, Tim Howard deserves every beer at every bar in America after that game. Jesus Christ.
** — Turkish giants Galatasaray have mentioned they’re eyeing him for their coaching vacancy.