Despite being behind basketball, baseball and ice hockey in the popularity stakes, soccer continues to grow in prominence across America. The MLS is making continual progress towards becoming an attractive league where many of the world’s top players will come to play, with Kaka and David Villa the latest star names to move from Europe. As the domestic league continues to prosper, it provides an encouraging sign for the future that America can produce players that have the quality to play at international level. They will follow in the footsteps of the current day US national team who did themselves and their country extremely proud during the 2014 World Cup in which sheer determination, work rate and effort came to the fore. Despite being knocked out in the second round by Belgium, America can look back at a wonderful tournament where they proved many people wrong and once again confirmed that they can more than hold their own at the highest level.
Group G and Ghana
The opening game against Ghana was always likely to be crucial to the USA’s chances of progressing from an extremely tough group. Ghana have emerged as a strong soccer nation that has the quality to compete in major tournaments, but many believed starting with a victory was the only way Klinsmann’s team would have a chance of defying the odds. It was imperative that the USA got off to a great start, and they duly delivered with a wonderful Clint Dempsey goal after just 25 seconds – it was the fifth fastest goal in World Cup history. The game then fell into a wonderful pattern of end-to-end soccer, with Ghana taking control in the second half and eventually broke USA’s resilience through Andre Ayew’s equaliser in the 82nd minute. Hopes of recording a crucial victory look set to end with a single point until John Brooks scored with a wonderful header from a corner four minutes later to seal a memorable win.
Portugal and Germany
Putting three points on the board was all the more essential due to Germany’s 4-0 demolition of Portugal, which put Cristiano Ronaldo and company in real danger of exiting the World Cup due to their poor goal difference. Their poor performance provided the USA with great encouragement that they had enough in their locker to beat Portugal and seal qualification from Group G – something that no-one outside of America had believed or foreseen prior to the tournament.
An uncharacteristic defensive error led to Portugal taking the lead after just 5 minutes, but the USA showed great character to come back from an early setback and took the game to Portugal. It took until the second half to finally break Portugal down, with a goal of the highest quality from Jermaine Jones from 25 yards out putting the USA in the ascendancy. America piled players forward as Portugal began to wilt under the pressure, and got their reward with a wonderfully work goal scored by USA captain Clint Dempsey. Destiny was in the USA’s hands and were just seconds away from securing their passage to the knock-out stages, until a 95th minute equaliser broke American hearts.
USA went into their final Group G game knowing that a draw against Germany would be enough to progress, but a defeat could leave the door open to Ghana who secured a very impressive 2-2 draw against Germany in their second match. Securing any sort of result was always likely to be difficult against a Germany side that have made a habit of getting the job done in major international tournaments. USA more than held their own during the game, but a period of Germany pressure early in the second half paid dividends as Thomas Muller continued his hot streak at Brazil 2014 with his fourth goal of the tournament. Despite losing the game, Ghana also lost to Portugal which meant that the USA would qualify as runners-up behind Germany due to having a better goal difference than Portugal.
A spirited effort and a wonderful performance from goalkeeper Tim Howard was not enough to continue the American dream as they went out at the hands of Belgium. It was one of the best games in the 2014 World Cup, with both teams committed to attacking each other which produced a fantastic spectacle for the many millions who tuned in across the world. Although gaining many admirers who appreciated everything they brought and added to the World Cup may be scant consolation, the whole of America got behind their team during a tournament in which soccer was the ultimate winner.