The record books will show Team USA lost to a faster, younger Belgium, 2-1, and exited the 2014 World Cup in Brazil with heads held high in the Round of 16.
The books don’t record the hopes, the emotion, the heartbreak, the suspense, the gut-wrenching setbacks, and near-comebacks all emanating Tuesday from a stadium in Salvador, Brazil, yet palpable at every watch party in San Antonio.
Soccer, the world sport once shunned in the states, now carries the ESPN imprimatur of approval and seemingly has been embraced coast to coast.
Did everyone have the afternoon off to watch the Big Game, or did it just seem that way? What ever happened to the incessant soccer putdown blather on talk radio so evident in World Cup pasts?
“The game was exciting,” said Charley Miller, a Team USA fan enjoying the environment and excitement at Beethoven Halle, “but the overtime scores were unexpected.”
His team lost, but keeper (or goalie, as we call him) Tim Howard was named Man of the Match and made World Cup history with the most saves (16) since records were first kept in the 1966 World Cup. It was an astonishing performance that kept the U.S. side in the game until the end of regulation time. The score could have been Belgium 3, USA, 0 had Howard turned in a less inspired defense. Belgium made 38 shots on the U.S. goal and 27 on target, scoring only twice. If there is such a World Cup statistic, that has to be one of the worst conversion rates on the books.
Tuesday’s final Round of 16 match was a tough one to watch for San Antonio fans. The scoreless tie at halftime and at the end of regulation belied a thorough Belgium schooling of the U.S. side, which looked sluggish, unorganized, and at times panicked as the Red Devils attacked relentlessly and controlled the ball. When the Americans did win the ball, players inevitably turned it over on sloppy, inexact passing. We looked outclassed.
Stoppage time and overtime can be the cruelest times in close games for fatigued players and coaches without substitute options. More than a few games in Brazil have been decided very late in the game as desperate teams finally placed the ball in the net.
Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne scored in the 93rd minute and Romelu Lukaku seemed to drive a stake in the U.S. heart in the 105th minute with a second score. Tim Howard finally looked human.
Just when it seemed all hope was lost and as American fans began to leave Beethoven Halle, the U.S. rallied. Teenage substitute striker, Julian Green, proved to the world and departing U.S. fans that anything is possible. His first touch was a beautiful touch, volleying a pass from Michael Bradley into the net to make it 2-1 and rekindle fire in the coldest of American soccer fan hearts.
The U.S. side came alive suddenly and for the remaining few minutes hammered at the Belgium goal in search of an equalizer. We came so close. Close doesn’t count.
“It was a great game, but the timing wasn’t right for the U.S.,” said one Beethoven Halle attendee on the way home.
That leaves hardcore San Antonio soccer fans to watch as the remaining eight teams fight for the trophy. It was a great run. Team USA might have lost, but U.S. soccer won.
When the World Cup is next staged in Russia in 2018, perhaps San Antonians will have their own public watch parties with tens of thousands of fans streaming into a revitalized Hemisfair Park as part of the city’s 300th anniversary celebrations, to watch Team USA go even deeper in pursuit of its first World Cup championship. By then, who knows, maybe we will even call the sport futból, just like everyone else on the planet.
*Featured/top image: Fans at Beethoven Halle watch the U.S. Men’s Soccer Team’s last match of the 2014 World Cup on July 1. Photo by Brooke Ramos.