Magical U.S. run ends in loss to Belgium

Belgium's Kevin De Bruyne (third right) forms a heart shape with his hands as his teammates gather...

Belgium's Kevin De Bruyne (third right) forms a heart shape with his hands as his teammates gather around him to celebrate his goal against the U.S. during extra time in their World Cup game at the Fonte Nova arena in Salvador, Brazil on Tuesday, July 1, 2014. (Ruben Sprich/Reuters)

KURTIS LARSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:14 PM ET

SALVADOR, BRAZIL - There are plays in U.S. soccer folklore that stand the test of time -- the most recent being John Brooks scoring a late winner against Ghana just to get the U.S. into the second round.

Before that, it was Landon Donovan scoring a stoppage-time winner against Algeria in 2010.

But in a 2-1 extra-time loss to Belgium here at Arena Fonte Nova Tuesday night, the Americans' magic finally ran out.

Down two goals in extra time after being thoroughly bossed, the U.S. somehow found an equalizer through the unlikeliest of sources: 19-year-old Julian Green, who cut Belgium's lead in half after super sub Romelu Lukaku provided an assist and scored another to finally break the U.S. after a goalless match.

At 2-1, and the crowd pushing the U.S. on, Clint Dempsey nearly produced another moment for U.S. folklore.

But the magic, which has been there so many times before, didn't materialize.

Dempsey, following a brilliant set piece that saw Bradley combine with Chris Wondolowski, failed to beat Belgian 'keeper Thibaut Courtois from close range.

"All of the players today, it went beyond their capabilities," U.S. bench boss Jurgen Klinsmann said. "They should be very proud and take a lot of positive stuff back home after this World Cup."

But while the Americans did well to navigate through the Group of Death, the U.S. was completely outclassed Tuesday night.

One can also argue that Klinsmann got a lot of things wrong in a tournament that saw the Americans play far too conservative, often times with just one forward. With a substitute to burn heading into extra time, Klinsmann didn't flinch when he saw Belgian bench boss Marc Wilmots bring on a fresh Lukaku.

Unsurprisingly, a tired U.S. back four were punished by Lukaku when he brushed aside U.S. centre back Matt Besler before setting up Kevin De Bruyne early in extra time.

Lukaku made it 2-0 a few minutes later, beating sensational Tim Howard at his near post.

While the U.S. isn't deep, there were players on Klinsmann's bench that could have helped defend against Lukaku.

"It's a completely different level here," Klinsmann said of his team. "I think they did themselves proud."

To that end, the U.S. accomplished what it did four years ago by bowing out in the second round, with an anxious nation glued to their TV sets. For that, the U.S. will receive praise -- as will Major League Soccer.

But to completely disregard the fact the U.S. was badly outplayed in three of the four matches here is simply looking away.

"We can really be proud," U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez said. "Sad is another word that can describe how I'm feeling.

"Tim Howard: I can't say enough about him. When they got by us, Howard was there to stop them."

It happened often -- both the Belgians getting through and Howard coming up big.

With any quality finishing, the Belgians would have gone up less than two minutes in after De Bruyne picked out Divock Origi, whose first touch beat Gonzalez to set up a tight-angle opportunity that Howard kicked away.

The Belgians nearly capitalized on a Graham Zusi turnover midway through the first half. The counter attack it produced ended up on De Bruyne's foot, but the Belgians didn't take his chance like he would in extra time.

"We knew one of the keys would be he midfield battle," Klinsmann said. "They were running the show."

Klinsmann added: "The talent gap is difficult to discuss."

Coming out of the break, the U.S. coach held off tossing on an extra striker, electing to instead go with the 4-5-1 that struggled to break out. It left Dempsey stranded. The U.S. rarely managed an attack and relied on Howard's 16 saves -- the most by any World Cup 'keeper in 50 years, according to ESPN -- to see the 90 minutes out.

"He kept us in the game," Klinsmann said of Howard. "He had an absolutely amazing match tonight."

So amazing he was unavailable for comment due to drug testing after the match.

Howard stoned Dries Mertens' header minutes after halftime before producing another good save on Origi with 20 minutes to go. With just over 10 minutes remaining, Kevin Mirallas was in alone on the U.S. 'keeper but Howard came up big again.

Howard punched away a third attempt in less than 10 minutes when Eden Hazard collected a cross at the back stick before putting an effort on goal. Finally, with the Belgians deserving a goal, Vincent Kompany's close-range attempt was pushed around the post after Howard laid out to save U.S. hopes.

This time, though, the U.S. couldn't produce the folklore it's known for.

Instead, unlike so many times before, Tuesday night's loss won't be remembered in the U.S. for any kind of late goal.

It will, however, go down in history as the best performance by a U.S. 'keeper in any World Cup.

It just wasn't enough.

LUCKY FOR REF, WONDO MISSED SITTER

Despite being dominated by Belgium here Tuesday night, U.S. forward Chris Wondolowski appeared to have the match on his foot in stoppage time.

With the game still goalless and looking destined for extra time, a recycled corner sat up perfectly for Wondolowski, who put his effort from metres over the goal.

Lucky for FIFA, Wondolowski produced a shocking miss. It turns out the assistant watching the play incorrectly raised his offside flag, meaning a potential game-winner would have been incorrectly called back.

Instead, Wondolowski produced a miss he won't soon remember.

And one FIFA won't have to explain Wednesday morning.


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