Tim Howard, the United States National Team goalkeeper, gave one of the great performances in the history of the World Cup in the team’s 2-1 loss against Belgium on July 1.
It doesn’t say a lot for the rest of the team that the goalkeeper had to make a mind-boggling 16 saves and we still lost 2-1.
Howard made saves of every description. He stopped high shots with his long reach and quick reflexes, he made low, diving and sliding saves with his hands and his feet and he made brave saves charging at onrushing Belgians and taking shots in the chest. Yet the team still conceded two goals.
The defensive line has taken a lot of heat over their performance in the World Cup and they should take some of the blame. They sometimes were disorganized and a step slow against the counter-attack.
But the blame must be shared by the midfielders who could not keep the ball for any amount of time before either booting it forward in the “hit and hope” manner or giving it away in midfield. Giving the ball away in midfield puts a lot of pressure on the back line. They are on their own when that happens.
With Jozy Altidore going down in the first game of the tournament, the U.S. did not have a viable option up front other than moving Clint Dempsey forward to try and take up the slack. Michael Bradley, who had looked like a world-class player during the run-up to the Cup, had a mediocre tournament – at best.
In short the United States soccer team was lucky to reach the knockout stage.
What they had in their favor was Howard, Jermaine Jones, Dempsey and a good team spirit.
Many people saw this year’s team as a big improvement over previous national teams but I didn’t see it that way. In 2002, we made it to the quarterfinals and even four years ago we had a slightly better record with a win and two draws. In fact, you could argue that we were one or two bad refereeing decisions from going back to the quarterfinals then.
This year we were somewhat lucky to beat Ghana in the first game and Portugal was not the team that people thought it would be coming into the tournament. Only hard work, a defensive mindset and Howard kept the Germany game from being a one-sided affair. The same could be said for the Belgium game.
I read a lot on-line about how great a job Jurgen Klinsmann has done with this team and how much we improved and changed our style from previous years, but I just didn’t see it.
When push came to shove, we just bunkered down and relied on the same approach as we always have; play tenaciously, clear the ball forward whenever possible and hope someone in a white jersey gets on the end of it.
I guess I’m still a little upset that Klinsmann left Landon Donovan off the roster. We could have used him when Altidore went down. And the problems we have controlling the ball are not his fault, at least not yet. It will take time to develop players with the skill to keep possession for longer than two or three passes and fortunately for Klinsmann, the U.S. fan base seems willing to give him that time.
But I think it’s unfair to previous coaches to give him unquestioned loyalty when this team did not show any real improvement from previous squads.
He did receive some criticism for speaking out before the tournament about how little of a chance we had at winning the whole tournament. He was just playing the coaching game of managing expectations for his team. I don’t blame him for that.
On the other hand, he promised a new more attacking style for this team but it sure didn’t look like it in this tournament. Maybe in four more years there will be enough talent to change to that style and I hope that’s true, but we have a long history of being just a cut below the major teams of the world and I don’t see it changing that quickly.
I don’t want to appear to be denigrating this national team. I loved their spirit and work ethic. I loved that they found a way to survive and advance. I loved the way they never gave up even when it seemed hopeless.
I will remember this team for those qualities. But I will never remember them as the team that took a huge step forward for U.S. soccer.
And unless Klinsmann is a miracle worker, I don’t see it happening in four more years.
In last week’s article on Vance Blade it was incorrectly reported that Vance’s father died when he was nine years old. Blade’s father Alfred Hayden Sr. is still alive.