After just 120 minutes, it all was over. The journey that captivated a country, consumed every waking minute of my life at least — even if the rest of the things on my agenda were unwilling to cooperate — and left immeasurable hope for the future, was no more. In all honesty, a result was not deserved, even if it seemed another goal might have been. Belgium were the better team advancing to the quarterfinals, but Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Co. fought valiantly until the fumes in their personal fuel tanks had vanished into the ether and the final whistle blew.
On some level it feels wrong to give any of these players less than a 10 for their performances in Salvador — yes, even you Wondo — as their accomplishments far exceeded the minutiae of performance breakdown. But that would be disingenuous. It was an imperfect performance from all but Tim Howard, with Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku on target and running the defense ragged in the first half of extra time. De Bruyne had orchestrated the non-stop assault for the previous 90 minutes as the Red Devils totaled 38 shots on the day, forcing Howard into a modern World Cup record 16 saves. Julian Green restored hope in the moment and for the future with a goal in extra time but Jermaine Jones’ effort and the most clever failed free kick off all time could not get the US to penalties.
It was the end of a World Cup that presented promise but also gave rise to more questions. There is plenty of time for those before the 2018 cycle gets going in earnest, as early a friendly in Prague this fall, but now is a time for pride. Everyone should be proud of the team, proud to be part of the run and the crowd support that made the 2014 World Cup so unique and special both in Brazil and stateside.
Steve Fogarty and I watched the game along with more than 20 million of our closest friends, but only the two of use graded the game for this purpose. As always, all grades are on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the worst and 10 reserved for the American supporters.
Tim Howard: 11
Giving Howard an 11 might seem like a token dose of hyperbole. In reality, his grade really exceeded the principles of mathematics. I truly believe he turned it up past 10 in the single greatest American performance I’ve ever seen. To give him a 10 indicates that a game like Howard’s is plausible. Even watching live, it just didn’t make sense and defied all the reality. Without Timmy, there isn’t even hope. Do we even need to say he’s a consensus Man of the Match?
Fabian Johnson: 5
Went to the sideline early with yet another USMNT hamstring injury. Was not as effective as he had been during the group stage prior to his exit.
Omar Gonzalez: 7.5
Rather than regress to his usual terrifying self, Omar actually managed to build on his successful outing against Germany. He continued to be in the right place to make last-ditch clearances and demonstrate why he is one of the most naturally talented defenders in the pool. He almost got enough in a tackle on De Bruyne immediately before the opening goal, but just couldn’t manage to poke the ball away from the Belgian attacker.
Matt Besler: 7.5
It could easily be argued that Besler was the most culpable player on each of the goals, though it is a testament to just how determined and stout his effort was that he still earned such a stellar grade. Also, it’s hard to fault him for getting beasted by the fresh legs of Lukaku. Besler was his normal consistent self, helping to keep the Belgians at bay for so long.
DaMarcus Beasley: 6.5
Continues to amaze with his legs on the wrong side of 30. His career as a USMNT left back is probably over following this game, but he provided cover at a perennially weak spot and got forward when needed too, especially late.
Geoff Cameron: 5
A surprise starter, Cameron showed that he was mentally recovered from his mistakes against Portugal. Dealt well with the towering Marouane Fellaini and showed himself to be hard-charging and determined in the midfield. Took the ball of the Belgians with authority and showed a willingness to charge forward. He also slipped into the backline fluidly to help staunch various other attacks with the United States pinned in deep. However, his passing was often suspect and he faded as the game went on and Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley began to offer less cover.
Jermaine Jones: 5.5
After being one of the stars of the group stage, Jones was not quite the same kind of difference maker in the Round of 16. Got forward well and continued to display tenacity and a unique tendency to leave his legs in during the aftermath of challenges, frustrating his sparring partners in the moment. Nearly equalized in the dying moments, but overall his finishing was not up to par — though he’ll forever be struggling to live up to his equalizer against Portugal.
Michael Bradley: 7
Was it the greatest Michael Bradley performance we’ve ever seen? No. Was it his best of the tournament and show his ability to impact the game in plenty of ways? Yes. Did he still tons of criticism, even if it was mostly unwarranted? Of course; he’s the new lightning rod for this team. Provided a beautiful ball on Julian Green’s goal, got in the way of plenty of Belgian moves and seemed to be the only one able to sprint his way into disrupting counterattacks by the Red Devils. Will be really interesting to see how the narrative around him develops with increased media scrutiny.
Graham Zusi: 4
Not the best we’ve seen from Zusi, who was mostly disappointing in everything he did after his corner found the head of John Brooks against Ghana. Against Belgium his service was lackluster, he struggled to maintain possession and his defensive fortitude was not what it had been.
Alejandro Bedoya: 5.5
Always willing to run forward and cover in defense. Ended up sparking a number of counters with the ball at his feet but didn’t have the speed to really do damage. Overall, he was not the impact player we hoped he would be.
Clint Dempsey: 5.5
It’s impossible to imagine what he grade would have been with just a slightly more controlled first touch and finish on the extra time free kick routine that nearly tied the game late. Dempsey fought a strong Belgian backline with his usual pugnacious attitude, but could not hide the fact that he really was playing out of position. He did all he could, aside from finishing his chance, but could not keep the United States alive yet again.
DeAndre Yedlin: 7.5
Have you heard the transfer rumor about DeAndre Yedlin? What about the other one? Or that other one? No American player announced himself more on the world’s stage louder than Yedlin — considered by many to be the least deserving member of the squad coming in — throughout this World Cup and will likely be all over the news with alleged moves during the next month or so. Coming on at right back for the injured Fabian Johnson, this was the Seattle defender’s first chance to play his natural position. He did not disappoint. Most surprising was his above average defense against Eden Hazard, though his impact came from getting forward and being the biggest threat throughout the game. His speed terrorized everyone in a red jersey as he got to the endline time and again.
Chris Wondolowski: 3.5
Oh Wondo. After remaking his national team career with his free scoring over the past 12 months, Wondolowski brought back memories of his earlier national team appearances, missing a sitter in stoppage time that would have seen the United States snatch a surprise victory. The more time that passes since it went flying over the bar, the more frustrating it gets. That said, you can bet nobody is beating Wondo up more than Wondo. He did continue his dedicated work off the ball and played a roll in setting up Dempsey for the best chance for an equalizer in extra time off a free kick.
Julian Green: 7.5
What a World Cup debut! Scored with his first touch off an ingenious run and started the passage of play that nearly saw the Americans improbably force penalties. Continued to look dangerous, but needs to get stronger — understandable, as he JUST turned 19. Also, the more I see the near goal by Dempsey I can’t help but think that if Green had continued his run toward goal he would have been in perfect position to finish off the rebound and grab an absurd brace. He was only a few inches off from being first to the ball as it was. Probably a little harsh, as he made a big impact after coming on and restored hope when it all seemed lost. Can only imagine what might come next.