Team USA’s fourth and final World Cup match was a classic, even in a loss. I went a bit crazy, took a one day sabbatical, and now offer up my World Cup play by play.
Since the US and Belgium had not met in a World Cup game since 1930 (US won 3-0) and have never fought a war against each other, I didn’t have much to go on for their matchup in the Round of 16.
If anything, apple pie is better than waffles and Sylvester Stallone is a better action star than Jean-Claude Van Damme.
There, I said it. Case closed.
World Cup match over.
Per usual, and unfortunately for the final time this World Cup, the Seesaw brothers and I had a slight talk before the game.
Doc: The US escaped the group of death and take on Belgium. They aren’t the best team the US has faced (Germany), nor do they have the best player (Ronaldo). They do have a very good team that won two games and tied another in their group. If Altidore plays, Dempsey and Jones play how they did against Portugal, Bradley stops losing the ball, and Howard plays to his level, the US has a very good chance of winning.
Dan: I watched the US against Germany and although they were obviously over matched at times, they fought hard the entire game. They don’t have the hot-shot skill players that impress on TV, but they play great as a team. I agree with your ‘prediction,’ although its hard to call it that when you didn’t actually pick a winner. I know I keep picking team USA to win, but I can feel the momentum building. As I wrote about a month ago, getting out of the Group of Death is a huge success for US Soccer. They needed to do more than simply win a game and they did. Now the fun begins. I like our team’s chances, especially if a shoot out is involved.
Doc: Well played. Prediction is the US plays well against better competition. I’ll say 2-1 US.
Todd: I know nothing about Belgium, but I like the chances of a Jozy Altidore late substitution goal. He gives the US a factor off the bench they haven’t had all tournament…unless of course he starts.
Doc: For some reason a shoot out is scary for me. While Belgium has the better strikers, Howard proved in an English Premiere league match that he can do great things during shoot outs.
Without further adu …. here we go. Yes, I pictured the Joker from The Dark Knight as I wrote that last line as well.
My immediate pre-match thoughts:
Cameron is starting as a midfielder. Since my only beef was his inability to clear balls as a defensive back, I’m 50/50 about this. Basically that gives me the right to change my mind as the game goes along.
About five people have already said this is the biggest game is US soccer history. I don’t see it that way, but I see the point. If you don’t win a title, the road to it is bigger. Ah who am I kidding, the US has never won at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. We need to win one first, even if the Mexicans plan that game in the middle of July, with high air pollution and enraged fans who might shoot you.
Travel mileage between the two teams: 8,900 miles for the US and 1,100 for Belgium. FIFA does realize the US is a larger country and are used to traveling distances that long, right? That’s basically a round trip flight from Boston to LA. Belgium is the size of Maryland. Annapolis to Baltimore is a long flight for them.
Jurgen Klinsmann has already said publicly he is not a fan of the Algerian referee Djamel Haimoudi . Personally, I don’t see it as a huge deal. Belgium knocked out Algeria this World Cup, but since I usually makes jokes about the home nation of the referees, I’m stumped. I literally tried to Google things to make fun of, but got nothing.
It’s 12:30 am local time, I’m already on two coffees and my boss just walked in with a case of Red Bull. I expect spelling and grammar errors as the match continues (to hopefully all be fixed by my wonderful editor).
A funny exchange before the match: Person A – “There are a lot of broken noses on this team.” Person B – “They go hard in the paint.” Person A – “They have a paint?” Person B – “No, different sport, same flopping. “
1 min: Howard already had to make his first save on a (wait for it) turnover. Belgium has some wheels.
6 min: Did LMFAO or Noah join the Belgium team? Fellaini? I really think so.
10 min: Did the US adopt the hockey strategy of dump and chase? That only works if you have boards to keep the object of play in the field. That, or I’m sure there is some intelligent reason I don’t yet know about. Who am I kidding, it’s not working.
12 min: Cameron chested the ball for a Belgium corner kick and then didn’t clear the ball properly. Really? Again? It’s like getting mad at your alcoholic girlfriend for drinking. You KNEW what was going to happen.
14 min: Origi goes down and my thought is this. Getting barely tapped in the leg causes convulsions and paralysis in soccer, but getting blasted in the face with the ball doesn’t? Flopping needs to be carded.
18 min: Cameron gets a yellow card on a rather questionable call. Uh, why is it always the same people who do these things?
21 min: Dempsey and Bradley go back and forth, but save a goal. Credit is due to Belgium; it was a good shot, just a better save.
26 min: BEASLEY!! You awesome man, you. Veteran move there. Had to be a perfect clear with, ya know, the ball heading to an open Belgium player (LMFAO) with an open net. How many close calls have there been already?
30 min: Fabian Johnson pulls a hamstring (another one) and is being replaced by DeAndrew Yedlin. I don’t know what Klinsmann told Yedlin, but it’s the Round of 16 in the World Cup. He should already be pumped. Plus he plays for Seattle in the MLS. Seattle has done great things in 2014 already. Good karma?
33 min: Yedlin already is doing work. Apparently he knew there was a game tonight.
37 min: The universal sign for wanting a yellow card (when Beasley went down) is the upper half of the lawnmower dance. Now you know.
39 min: Announcer once again lets us know the US has allowed the first goal in it’s last sixteen matches against European teams. Why is it I’m superstitious about stuff like that? If the announcer says a stat like that, it generally happens.
42 min: Yellow card on Kompany of Belgium. He basically ran over Dempsey, or at least I’ll say he did because I’m a homer. ‘Merica. Also, Johnson’s medical diagnosis is he has a strained left hamstring. What is it with hamstrings and noses for the US team? Out of all injuries, it’s those.
45 min: Howard again makes a save. Why does Belgium keep getting off better shots? Can the US defense or offense give Howard a break?
During halftime, this is what I sent to the brother’s Seesaw: “I like the direction this is going. If the US can just keep Belgium from taking shots from the top of the penalty area, it looks alright. I am a fan of their aggressiveness and generating chances though. It makes me smile.” It’s true, Belgium was taking far too many shots from that range at Howard.
47 min: Howard jumps to knock a ball over the crossbar from Mertens. The announcer called it routine, but who cares. It looked great. That’s all that matters in life, how good you look.
60 min: Another miss from another Belgium attack. This isn’t going well, obviously. Belgium came out with every intention of controlling the game. Meanwhile, whatever the US smoked to come out lethargic, I want an eighth of it.
62 min: Belgium has seventeen shots to USA’s three. If you just read this line, who do you think is doing better? Belgium is making me more nervous than when the cops pull me over.
66 min: The US has adopted the Homer Simpson style of play. Let the other team do all the work so they tire out, then take advantage. Probably not the best idea to have Matt Groening write your team strategy. In fact, that’s the worst strategy since the Twinkie defense.
69 min: LMFAO of Belgium missed a shot wide. Sealy mattresses should make an ad with Howard, he needs a nap after this game. He may finish this game with double digit saves. (Yes, I really did write that at the time.)
71 min: HOWARD!! Another save with his legs. Not sure how much that was luck, but I don’t care. It occurred right after the announcer said Belgium has scored four goals in the last twenty minutes of play. Again, I hate stats.
74 min: Dempsey takes his second shot from the top of the penalty area. Does he know three pointers only occur in basketball?
76 min: A non foul call on Yedlin, which leads to Miralles getting a great shot on Howard. Howard is able to nudge it away.
78 min: Gonzalez goes to clear a ball, falls wrong on his ankle, and thankfully he appears ok. I don’t know what I’d do if my favorite defender not named DaMarcus went out. Probably hang my head in shame as though my seat positioning caused it.
79 min: HOWARD AGAIN!! Diving save on a great shot. His 10th of the game. So yes, officially in double digits.
85 min: Another hard shot and Howard knocks it over the crossbar. I think this is when the internet memes of Howard began circulating.
88 min: Hazard of Belgium misses the net near side. Thankfully no one made a bad pun about his name yet.
90 min: HOWARD MAKES ANOTHER SAVE. Also, the meme of Howard saving Mufasa from dying is made.
93 min: AAAAAAHHHHH!!!! WHY WONDOLOWSKI?? With only the goalie to beat, his shot goes above the net. Everyone in ‘Merica made that sound. He had a chance to be the hero in a game where the US has been dominated, and then it was gone.
Now on to Extra Time. Here was the exchange between Dan and myself.
Doc: Since it’s extra time, do I get paid more for this?
Dan: You get paid? I’ll get you a pack of gum next time I see you. Wintergreen?
Doc: Pleasure doing business with you.
Did I mention what an expert negotiator I am?
93 min: After Besler falls on a 50/50 ball, the US can’t clear it fast enough. De Bruyne of Belgium gets the rebound and finally a Belgium shot goes past Howard. They are up 1-0. I think I might see grown men cry, the room just became silent.
97 min: Howard makes his 13th save of the night and is getting pissed at his defense, or complete lack there of. Who can blame him? Leonidas (Greek hero anyone?) has a better chance than Howard does right now.
100 min: Jones hurts his ankle while attempting to strike the ball. He kicked a dude’s foot. I’m going to assume he is in pain. Nevermind, he is walking. From now on, all soccer injuries are presumed fake until an x-ray is taken.
101 min: Howard makes his 14th save, the most in a World Cup game since the 1960’s. If that doesn’t prove how well Howard has played today, nothing will. The man is possessed.
102 min: Jones has now been blasted in the face with the ball. Ok, now I know it hurts. He went down faster than Christie Mack. If you’re reading this at work, don’t Google that name. Wait until you’re at home.
104 min: Howard witnessed another Belgium player walk past the defense and take a shot. No worries. Howard now has fifteen saves. Can the defense at least pretend like they’re not being bribed to throw the game?
105 min: De Bruyne makes a great lead ball to Lukaku and the game is now 2-0 Belgium. I think it’s safe to say that is all she wrote. I don’t see the US scoring two goals in fifteen minutes. It’s not going to happen. It’s just a shame that Howard, who played a tremendous game and had a great World Cup, is going home. When Kahn had his historic World Cup performance, at least the German offense did enough to win. The US offense has been non-existent in the 2nd half and extra time.
107 min: JULIAN GREEN!! Green subbed in for Alejandro and on his first shot, scores his first World Cup goal. Now its 2-1 baby.
108 min: NOW the US decides to play offense? And well I might add.
110 min: Howard makes another great save on a one on one play. Howard takes a breath; he’s ok now.
113 min: The US makes a great play on a free kick, but a block and save takes care of that opportunity. Dempsey had the ball and a chance to score, with just himself and the goalie. So close…. Man…..
117 min: Another fury of shots and chances, but the US can’t find the equalizer. Which is more of a workout, this or the Insanity workout? I think this.
120 min: One minute of stoppage time. Really? That’s it? I don’t know if I’m going to throw up, faint, or whatever. I think I know why people who watch soccer swear and riot so much.
121 min: Yes… I now officially know why they riot. At least the US made it interesting.
So close. So very close.
It’s now 24 hours later, give or take, and I know the following to be true from this game and the US performance in this World Cup overall.
1) Tim Howard just cemented himself in soccer lure. Eighteen saves in a World Cup game? That’s insane. It will be talked about for years, along with him. I just wish he wasn’t 35 years old. His Wikipedia job changed the next day.
2) The US is on the right path, but they still need some more talent on the team for the next World Cup. Jones, Gonzalez, Green, Brooks and Yedlin are on the right path, but who will join them? Also, this is probably the last World Cup for Dempsey, Beasley, Howard and Bradley. So there will be some gaping holes to fill. Especially at goalie.
3) Should the US be proud? Yes, I’d say a little bit. Getting out of the Group of Death was an accomplishment, but the US were dominated in their last two games. Belgium had thirty-eight TOTAL shots on goal. That is the most I have ever seen in one soccer game. That’s getting dominated, plain and simple.
US Soccer must rise up. Germany and Belgium are the type of teams they’ll have to beat if they want to make it past the Round of 16 in the next World Cup. Develop younger stars and this is an achievable goal.