A few weeks ago, I was in a Belgian pub, where everybody was six feet tall – including the women, some of whom brandished long toy spears. (The team is nicknamed the Red Devils, I was told.)
Big people. Big team.
In the World Cup Round of 16, it is not quite enough to be desperate and valiant and pretty darn good.
The Americans went up against the big people on Tuesday, unable to rely on set pieces and power as they do in the regional qualifying matches.
It was wearing to hold off the Belgians, who had skilled players from the good leagues in Europe. The U.S. could not win enough scrimmages to come up with a lot of corner kicks and free kicks. What the U.S. had was its best athlete, Tim Howard, making superb saves and keeping them in the match with probably the best match ever by an American keeper, until Belgium held on for a 2-1 victory in extra time.
Belgium had the horses -- Kevin De Bruyne who plays for VfL Wolfsburg in Germany and Romelu Lukaku, who plays with Howard at Everton of England – and they finally broke through and scored in the extra 30 minutes.
Here was the difference: Belgium could come in with Lukaku in extra time, after he did not start. The U.S. went with one man up front, Clint Dempsey, for a long time, and relied on others moving up, which is not the same as having a fast and powerful forward like Lukaku driving against weary defenders.
Ever since Jurgen Klinsmann picked his squad, I suggested the U.S. would miss Landon Donovan in a match where they needed a goal, late. This was the day. With Jozy Altidore not ready, Chris Wondolowski flubbed a chance to win in regulation time, which can happen. And Julian Green, the 19-year-old German, who essentially had Donovan’s spot on the roster, scored on his first World Cup touch, on a volley. So it’s hard to fault Klinsmann for using the kid.
The big picture is that the U.S. is still a work in progress in this sport which huge crowds keep discovering all over this nation.
The U.S. conducted itself well. Klinsmann is a good coach, and has four years more on his contract. The country can be proud. Nobody bit, nobody quit, nobody sulked. Admirable.
In my den -- no more Belgian pubs with giantesses wielding spears – the U.S. run was fun, and instructive, and exhausting. I loved Jermaine Jones and Dempsey and DaMarcus Beasley, and marveled at Michael Bradley’s work rate against Belgium. But it’s over now.
Julian Green is 19, and DeAndre Yedlin, the fresh legs at right back, is 20. And Tim Howard is 35, and keepers can go on a long time, and he should. It’s a new World Cup cycle in the States, starting now.
Where is the American De Bruyne? Where is the American Lukaku? Maybe watching the World Cup with friends and saying, “I can play that sport instead of basketball (or baseball, or football.)” That is still somewhere in the future.
7/1/2014 01:47:25 pm
7/1/2014 02:13:39 pm
Good new kids - exciting, but I agree that the team badly needed Donovan today to deliver on what was oh so close.....several times.
Thor A. Larsen
7/1/2014 02:27:18 pm
Although I only caught the last 20 minutes or so, I did catch all the scoring, and based on that limited viewing, it seemed that this game was one of the best US have played. When against the wall, they became stronger. The brilliant scoring by the very young Julian Green and the remarkable goal tending by Tim Howard were both very memorable. Yes, it seems that soccer is the new sport for the Ameican public and this fine team helped in establishing this interest. (We were in NYC today, and on every outdoor cafe, there was a TV with the afternoon game being played and the crowd watching. The interest and intensity of the watchers was very similar to the pubs in Ireland last week when they were watching some of the World Cup games.)
7/1/2014 03:19:53 pm
GV - Good points about the team not quitting, having heart, always battling. Also a good point regarding the fact that depth means everything in a series of closely placed battles against the class of the world. Most of the players this team will be relying in the run-up to the next World Cup will not be home-grown. This much is being made abundantly clear. Klinsmann, at least, recognizes that we still do not have the infrastructure to develop a large pool of world-class players from seedlings. This is the rub. What do we do as a nation to compete at this level, as we do in hockey, or fencing, or chess? There are plenty of these arenas where the USA is not preeminent, but still extremely competitive. Soccer, on the other hand, remains an elusive bird for us.
7/2/2014 12:54:35 am
George, how many games have we watched over the years where the better team brings on a Super Star in the 80th minute, a guy better than anyone else on the lesser team to win the game? And the Belgians were dominating throughout the game already yesterday. We don't have ANYONE like Lukaku If Wondo would have tapped that ball end at the end of regulation, it really would an unfair result to the Belgians....not that it would have bothered me in the least. How about Belgium and Holland in the Final 8? Population about the same as Texas. Other than Timmy Howard, do we have a guy who could make either squad?
7/2/2014 09:13:17 am
Tom - As George knows, I've been following the Belgian squad for 2+ years and while I was pulling for the USA, I agree it would have been unfair had Belgium lost. Also, I believe Belgium is the 2nd or 3rd youngest squad at the World Cup so watch out for them in Russia '18! Michael
7/3/2014 08:16:38 am
This continues to be a truly amazing World Cup.
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From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.