The United States Men’s National team bowed out of the World Cup after a hard fought 2-1 loss at the hands (or feet) of Belgium. The USMNT advanced out of the group stage by finishing second behind Germany and went on to play in the knockout rounds for the second straight World Cup. However, while most people understand the U.S. were probably not going to win the entire tournament, there is still some level of disappointment that the run had to end. Here are the four reasons why Americans should hold their heads high and take away from the 2014 World Cup that their team greatly outplayed anything that was expected of them.
4. Vegas Underdogs
On the day the World Cup kicked off, the United States 100:1 long shots to win soccer’s ultimate prize, and they were more than 3:1 dogs to even advance out of the group stage. The fact of the matter was, Jürgen Klinsmann was right, his team was not ready to win the World Cup. This being said, they did overcome a lot just to get out of the group. Plus, they beat Ghana, earned a draw with Portugal and brought Belgium to extra time, all of which paid almost double the investment. Obviously Vegas odds do not have any real effect on the outcome of sporting events, but they certainly prove, the U.S. were not supposed to do much of anything in Brazil and they did.
3. Group of Death
On December 6th, 2013, FIFA held its version of the lottery. The tournament field is selected semi-randomly and the draw couldn’t have gone worse for the Yanks. They were drawn into a pool with Germany, a favorite to win the World Cup, Portugal, who entered the tournament ranked fourth in the world, and Ghana, the team that had eliminated the U.S. from back-to-back World Cups. The Americans instantly identified the opener against Ghana as a must win, but even with those three points it was still going to be an uphill climb, but after all was said and done the U.S. found a way. Sure, it took some help, but they got out, and not even some of the biggest fans of the team expected that.
The United States played games in Natal, Recife, Manaus, and Salvador. Their home base camp in Brazil was in Sao Paulo. For those not as familiar with Brazilian geography, base camp was in southeast Brazil and they played three games in the northeast and the other in the northwest of the gigantic country. The USMNT traveled a total of 8,874 miles in the group stage alone. Tack on the additional 1147 miles they put in to get to the round of 16 match, and you’ve got a grand total of more than 10,000 miles traveled in less than two weeks across the South American country. Their opponent, the Belgians, traveled less than 2,500 during their stay. Makes the 0-0 draw at the end of regulation look a little more impressive, doesn’t it?
1. Jozy Altidore
Jürgen Klinsmann’s preferred tactical formation included only one true striker, Jozy Altidore. The 24-year-old Altidore was expected to hold up the ball in the attacking third and allow the rest of the team to join in on the attack. Altidore’s ability to take on defenders and keep possession of the ball allowed Michael Bradley more space to pick out dangerous passes into the penalty area. Also, Altidore’s presence on the field took a ton of pressure off Clint Dempsey as the 3-time World Cup veteran would not be expected to be the sole scoring option for the American attack. Less than 30 minutes into the opening game against Ghana, Jozy Altidore strained his hamstring. He was out for the rest of the tournament and the U.S. were forced to scramble. Yet, they still scored four goals after Altidore’s departure, they had leads on Ghana and Portugal, and they took a Round of 16 match to extra time. Who knows how far the U.S. could have gone with their best attacking player, but the fact they went as far as they did without him is truly an accomplishment in it of itself.