World Cup 2014: Three talking points as the U.S. is knocked out by Belgium in extra time

July 1

The United States’ World Cup run ended with a 2-1 loss to Belgium on Tuesday

The late flurry wasn’t enough. At 2-0 down in extra time, the U.S. fought like a wounded animal to stay alive in the World Cup before going out in heartbreaking fashion to Belgium. Here are some talking points:

“Without the ball, you can’t win.” This simple, yet profound, observation by the legendary Dutch player and manager Johan Cruyff forms the basis of how great teams play soccer. It would have been nice for Cruyff to repeat it to Jurgen Klinsmann and Co. Tuesday night. The Americans were too content to let Belgium have the ball, and they gave it away cheaply when they did get it back. Instead of taking the game to Belgium, the U.S. tried to ride out the red tide. Much of the credit goes to Belgium for keeping the U.S. under pressure. But in order for the team to make the leap to the top tier of world soccer, the U.S. has to be as good with the ball as it is tenacious without it.

Lukaku the Super Sub. Romelu Lukaku burst onto the scene in the Premier League in 2012-13. Playing at West Bromwich Albion on loan from Chelsea, Lukaku scored 17 goals in 35 games — including 15 appearances off the bench, where he used his strength and speed to overpower tired defenders. He did exactly that against the U.S., shrugging off Matt Besler like he wasn’t there in the buildup to the first goal, and hitting the Americans with a suckerpunch on the counter for the second.

The Future is Bright. Did you miss Julian Green’s consolation goal? Didn’t see the way he timed his run to perfection to get on the end of a vintage Michael Bradley chip? Don’t worry, you’ll likely get plenty of chances to see that in the next four years. Bradley (26 years old), Green (19 ), fullback DeAndre Yedlin (20)  and American hero John Brooks (21) are among the dozen or so players on the 2014 World Cup roster who will expect to play a big role in qualifying for the next cycle. Many were surprised when Green and Yedlin were picked for the roster, while over-30 veterans Landon Donovan and Clarence Goodson were left out, but Klinsmann’s faith in youth will pay dividends in the long run.

Man of the Match: Tim Howard, U.S. Goalkeeper

What more can you say about him? Howard capped off a flawless World Cup with a performance for the ages.  Commanding his box imperiously, he was a wall for 92 minutes, fending off wave after wave of attacks until his resistance was finally broken by Kevin De Bruyne. If Howard, 35, never plays in another World Cup, he’ll have gone out with a bang.

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