Those are the words tweeted by Jozy Altidore following USA’s heartbreaking defeat to Belgium 2-1 in extra time. Altidore watched his team from the sidelines virtually the entire tournament due to a hamstring injury he suffered against Ghana in the first half.
No member of the team had a better year of international football than Altidore (8 goals in 14 appearances in qualification) leading up to the World Cup and the star forward was the key to the U.S. attack. And then just like that his World Cup was over, and the U.S. left without their most prized goal-scoring asset in the group of death.
Yet, it didn’t matter. Because that’s what Americans do, we get knocked down, and we somehow find a way to get back up. The 23 men we sent down to Brazil epitomized that American spirit to its fullest extent. And in return, a country that has long rejected the ‘World’s Sport’ of soccer, dropped everything they were doing and joined together in the tens of thousands to cheer on their country.
And now we move forward.
But first, even if the wound of defeat hasn’t fully healed yet, let’s take a quick look back of what was accomplished in three and a half weeks in Brazil.
Belief. It’s written all over our chant, our team, our country. The U.S. team certainly had the country believing. Soccer isn’t the most popular sport in our country as you may know. But for the past month we were all apart of the American Outlaws, the official (and wild) fan section of the team. We sent the most fans and bought the most tickets out of any country not named Brazil. From Washington to LA, Kansas City to Chicago and everywhere in between, people gathered by the masses for 90 minutes to watch a game many still don’t really understand, outside of the ball going in the net being a good thing.
But that’s not the point. The game is growing here, is. This isn’t the first time the U.S. has reached the Knockout stage in the World Cup, in fact, we’ve gone a round farther before. But it is the first time that people have truly rallied behind the USMNT with such force, and cheered, “I believe that we will win!” with so much conviction. Remember this is soccer we are talking about, a game we have long mocked, turned into our main source of national pride, because of the team.
We accomplished revenge, set records and escaped death.
When the U.S. drew Ghana, Portugal and Germany back in December, Many feared the worst, three games, three losses and sent packing. A team that had eliminated them the past two World Cups, A team with the FIFA Player of the Year and a team that many had as the favorites to win the entire tournament.
But then again, history says that being the underdog in anything, sports, war, you name it, serves us well. And maybe that is why it was so easy for many to fall in love with this team, they weren’t the best by any means, they had no real ‘World Class’ players named Messi or Ronaldo. They were a true underdog in every meaning of the word, with the biggest uphill task out of any team in the tournament. They traveled nearly 9,000 miles around Brazil, the most of any team by far. Played in the most humid and warmest sight in Manaus and of course, had the the most daunting schedule.
Yet no excuses were made.
No one really knew what to expect heading into the Ghana game, there were many questions to be answered about the team that
had a fair share of flaws. But the man who donned the captains armband and embraced the role as the country’s leader would score 34 seconds in and made the message very clear, the U.S. is here to win.
But then the next 80 minutes showed that we are far from perfect, as Ghana kept attacking and pounding until they finally broke through. A team in desperate need of 3 points against Ghana looked exhausted and beaten, but still found a way to get back up, thanks to a superb header from center-back John Brooks that sealed the victory. And in that moment, the belief of actually getting out of the group seemed possible and everyone went nuts:
And then they continued their impossible journey, without their best forward. They tied Portugal in dramatic fashion and it felt like a loss. Lost to Germany, but it felt like a victory. Football can be a strange game sometimes.
But in the end, they found their way out of a group they had no business nearly winning, let alone getting out of.
Then came the Belgium, a team littered with Premier League stars that have played football at its highest level of competition, and it showed. They controlled the majority of the game and if it wasn’t for the heroic goalkeeping of Tim Horward with 16 saves (The most in the last 50 years at a WC) they should have won by three or four goals. But Howard did not budge, made acrobatic saves left and right and had put on a performance that ranks up with Jimmy Craig in 1980 Olympics for Team USA Hockey and Ryan Miller in 2010 Vancouver. At 35 years of age, The Everton goalkeeper most likely played his last World Cup for his country and despite his age showed that he is still a top 5 goalkeeper in the world.
But something else showed as well for the U.S.
The future starts with the man who constructed this team, controversially nonetheless. Jurgen Klinsmann had the “minerals” as beloved play-by-play man Ian Darke would say, by leaving 32-year old midfielder Landon Donovan and USMNT icon off the 23 man roster that shocked the country.
Many doubted Klinsmann with his choices of John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin and Julian Green who would fill Donovan’s void.
We’re not doubting him now. Brooks knocks home a game-winner after a stellar performance against Ghana, DeAndre Yedlin came off the bench early on against Belgium and played the game of his life at right back, pushing forward and sending in crosses that gave chances to his teammates all day.
And then at the age of 19, making his first appearance of the entire tournament in the 2nd period of extra time against Belgium, Julian Green gave the U.S. another reason to believe.
His first touch of his World Cup career was a perfectly timed run past the stonewall Belgium defense and knocked home the volley from Michael Bradley past a World Class keeper in the 102nd minute.
All of a sudden the U.S. had a dominant Belgium on its heels, nervously clearing balls out of the box and nearly watched Clint Dempsey put home an incredibly executed free kick play that would have sent it to penalties. But that was the theme of the game, they couldn’t finish their numerous chances.
Yet the gutsy, gritty and brave performances in Brazil caught the attention of everyone back home and those around the world.
Moving forward under the command of the charismatic Klinsmann and his young and talented players yet again have another uphill battle. We look forward to a day where we talk of more than just the heart and guts displayed by USMNT, when moral victories turn into Quarterfinals and Semifinal victories, and of course a day when we can finally call ourselves champions of the world.
It won’t be easy, but then again, we like it that way.