July 1, 2014
If you needed a handy representation of the gulf in raw quality between Belgium and the United States, look no further than each side’s respective substitutions at striker. With the US under siege and clinging desperately to the 0-0 scoreline that would get them to extra time, Jurgen Klinsmann brought on Chris Wondolowski — a 31-year-old MLS veteran who’s spent his entire pro career in the United States and developed a reputation as a ruthless poacher in front of goal. The only problem is that, terrific as he’s been in MLS, he hasn’t developed a reputation for much else at any other level.
Meanwhile, at the start of that extra time, Belgium brought on Romelu Lukaku. A 21-year-old powerhouse with speed, touch, and no shortage of brute force, Lukaku led Everton in scoring this past season while on loan from Chelsea — and probably raising his value on the transfer market above the majority of the US’s entire starting 11 combined.
In many ways, the US — as it has so many times in its soccer history — defied that gulf in raw quality. The Yanks ran as far as it was possible to run, tackled as hard as it was to tackle, fought as hard as it was to fight. Tim Howard put together a performance that might have been considered impossible if we hadn’t already seen it once from a US goalkeeper, when Kasey Keller stoned Brazil in 1998. With their backs as far against the wall as it was possible to be, the US brought on a teenager who scored a goal with his first touch. If you can’t take some pride what the US showed in that final 15 minutes, well, you probably root for some other team.
But sometimes, there’s only so much defying that can be done. Wondolowski couldn’t score from six yards. Lukaku scored one goal and set up another. So it goes.
CBSSports.com’s player ratings for the match:
GK Tim Howard, 10, MAN OF THE MATCH. I mean, if that wasn’t a perfect 10 performance, what is? That Howard made more saves than any World Cup goalkeeper in 50 years goes some way to describing his performance; that he somehow managed to make all those saves without allowing a single dangerous rebound maybe goes the rest of the way. He was nothing short of legendary.
RB Fabian Johnson, 5. Johnson was only on the field for 32 minutes before having to come off with yet another hamstring problem, the third time in only four games an American has had to leave before the second half over a hamstring injury. He won’t like it, but Jurgen Klinsmann will have to answer questions as to why.
CB Matt Besler, 6. Besler was an absolute rock for some 93 minutes … and then couldn’t deal with a barreling Lukaku, slipped, and watched the end result become the all-important first Belgium goal. Soccer is cruel.