Here is what I think about the loss of the United States to Belgium (I wrote this up shortly after the game, but a combination of me procrastinating and me preferring to listen to other people’s opinions and then form my own, it hasn’t gotten up until now):
-It was a good World Cup for the US. The team just doesn’t yet have the talented players that many other countries have, and those countries more talented than the US include Germany, Portugal, Ghana, and Belgium. Beating one, coming tantalizingly close to beating two others, and narrowly losing to the fourth, especially when all four are better, is a nice achievement. This is the only time in all of history that the US has gotten out of the group in two straight World Cups. Not only was it a group, it was the Group of Death. Klinsmann earned his contract extension, even though they already signed it last year.
-But it wasn’t a great World Cup for the US. They were one of the better teams, team-work wise, while Portugal and Ghana basically imploded. Portugal had a nightmare against Germany (as I’ve said before, they’re captain is Cristiano Ronaldo and one of their best players is Pepe; that explains their team mentality), while Ghana had a nightmare of their own; two players were kicked out of the team for disputes with the Ghanaian FA and with the coach, while they also had a conflict over money. The US caught both Ghana and Portugal on off years, and they only made it through on goal difference. Am I sounding too harsh? My nice paragraph was the last one. This is my harsh paragraph. They have a better squad than 2010 and they got the same final result: out 2-1 in extra time in the Round of 16.
-Obviously there is a middle ground. Klinsmann did well overall (I still take issue with a lot of his decisions) but he could’ve done better. I’ll detail this more in the coming weeks.
-What about Julian Green, the player who I’ve criticized so much yet who scored? Do I apologize for my opinion on him? No. See, logically, it made no sense to bring in a German 4th Division player. He’s a great prospect, but he did terrible in the friendlies. And Klinsmann seemed to agree; he played less minutes in the warm-up games than everyone but Nick Rimando, the third-string goalkeeper. All indications said that Green wouldn’t play a single minute, much less score. And the minutes he did play were at the end of a game that at the time the US looked very unlikely to win. Although he did score, and there was no way to predict that.
-Anyway, good for him, and I hope he has a great career, but is it so wrong for me to still think that Landon Donovan would’ve been better? It isn’t.
-Here is something that I know that Klinsmann got wrong: WHERE WAS KYLE BECKERMAN?!? Howard, Besler, Gonzalez, and Howard (I meant to mention him twice; one of the best goalkeeping performances ever) were great in the back, but they wouldn’t have been tested so much if Kyle Beckerman would’ve been there.
-Now to players who didn’t do quite as well. Did I curse Wondo? I hope not. However you look at it, coming from Division II college soccer to MLS reserve league to league MVP to the World Cup, he’s had a career worthy of a made-for-TV movie (if he would’ve scored on that goal it would’ve been for theatres. But hey, considering that most people have never even played for their national teams, much less played in a World Cup, he’s done very well in his career.)
-We were so close to Wondokota being real. And if you don’t know what that means I suggest you read my USA-Belgium preview.
-So, should we blame Wondolowski? No. We shouldn’t blame any individual player. This is how sports work: you win as a team, and lose as a team. Of course some players play better than others, and we should recognize that, but putting all the blame on a player for the team not making it to the quarterfinals is ridiculous, especially when that player was only on the field for less than a third of the time the team played.
-Overall, I just feel sad for Wondo. He makes that chance 9 out of 10 times (Landon Donovan said that, and I agree) but for some reason this was the 1 time he missed it. It’s not nearly as easy as it looks, especially when Thibaut Courtois, the most terrifying goalkeeper in the world, is right there trying to stop you.
-Also, we shouldn’t be getting so upset about the US getting knocked out in the Round of 16. Talent-wise, do you think that the US is even top 10 in the World? No, I don’t. When you consider the fact that the team plays well together (as opposed to Portugal, England, and most African teams) it gives the US a boost, but I still think that top-10 is unrealistic. Not to say that Quarterfinals shouldn’t be an expectation. Or am I? I’m not sure. My point is that it isn’t a crime for the team to be knocked out in the Round of 16, and thus the team shouldn’t be punished as if it was a crime.
-And I’ll reiterate it: don’t pile all the blame on just a few players. That’s just silly. Be happy about the things the team did right, and learn from the things the team did wrong.
I will have a lot more about the World Cup and the USMNT in the coming weeks. Yes, even after the World Cup is over. Stay tuned.