Nearly 24 hours later, I'm still gutted by the United States's exit from the World Cup. Don't get me wrong - if someone beforehand had said we'd vanquish the history with Ghana, emerge from the Group of Death, and take Belgium (a very trendy darkhorse pick going into the tournament) to added time before bowing out, I'd have been happy with that. But there was so much that we left on the table. But for a last-second brain fart, we come from behind to beat Portugal, winning back-to-back group games for the first time (and maybe, just possibly, winning the group). But for Chris Wondlowski choking like an autoerrotic asphixiant last night, we steal a win against Belgium and are planning on how to stop Messi and company on Saturday. All in all, I'm both pleased and frustrated.
A few player specific thoughts . . .
- Tim Howard is God. And I'm an atheist, so that should count double, or something. Brad Guzan has some big gloves to fill for the next cycle (and the next Gold Cup - only a year away!)
- Michael Bradley had a bad WOrld Cup. I realize that he put in an awful lot of work (after the group stage, at any rate, he was one of the leaders in amount of ground covered), but he was too often unable to hold on to the ball or do anything interesting with it (brilliant assist last night aside). Whether that's because he was playing in a role that's not really his own or something else, he's got to get back on track when he returns to Toronto. And Klinsmann needs to figure out how to get the best out of him.
- Jermaine Jones was great, probably our best player overall through four games. He showed all the poise, restraint, and good timing going forward that he's hinted at for years. I mean, seriously, who expected him to get through four games with only one yellow card? And that goal was really a screamer. I hope he can claw his way back to a bigger European club after this showing.
- As for Julian Green, I said a month ago that I thought Klinsmann's decision to include him on the roster was a mistake, but hoped "they both prove me wrong in the next few weeks.". Proof given, I am ready to eat crow. Green's flick to score against Belgium last night was not the act of a kid who is out of his depth. And he did contribute the cause at this World Cup. Well done.
- Clint Dempsey had a weird cup. On the one hand, he scored two goals, becoming the first (?) American player to score in three consecutive World Cups. On the other hand, in the wake of Jozy Altidore going down injured, Clint was left to fill a role that's not really his (sort of like Bradley) and, as a result, disappeared for long streches of time. Not his fault, obviously, but kind of disappointing nonetheless.
- As for Jurgen Klinsmann himself, it's hard to say at this point. His deftness with substitutions continues (see sub goals for Green and John Brooks), but the way things shook out it's hard not to fault some of his roster choices. There was no cover for Altidore in terms of a big, strong, back-to-goal kind of player when one was available in Terrence Boyd. Likewise, there were no reinforcements in the holding midfield role once he went to having Jones and Kyle Beckerman (who had a good three games) in with Bradley. That's to say nothing of the wastes of roster space that were Brad Davis (played one horrible half) and Mixx Diskerud (didn't play at all).
One final thing. This World Cup has captured American attention like none I remember before (since 1994, at least) and I hope some of that "sticks." I don't expect everybody who tuned in yesterday to pick up Major League Soccer for the rest of the season or even the Gold Cup when it comes around this time next year. But if just a few people are converts to the charms of the beautiful game, I think we'll have to call this World Cup a success.