BY RACHEL SHULHAFER
He leapt, he stretched, he punched and he volleyed, but not even the force field of defense that is Tim Howard could keep the Belgians from scoring twice, thus ending the Americans’ run in the 2014 World Cup. The final score was a painstakingly close 2-1, with all three goals coming in extra time.
While the outcome was disappointing, Howard managed to break a World Cup record with an astonishing 16 saves. The Internet collectively freaked out after his legendary performance, and someone even edited Wikipedia to say that he was the United States Secretary of Defense. The hashtag #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave went viral, and photoshopped memes of Howard leaping to save things like Mufasa falling to his death in The Lion King surfaced. Howard earned Man of the Match in two of the four U.S. games. At age 35, this was likely his last World Cup appearance, which highlights the unfortunate fact that the Americans are a team that relies very heavily on its defense, and doesn’t have a strong enough midfield to control the game and generate offense. Howard may be the equivalent to having a brick wall in front of the goal, but he can’t score points too (even though he did do that once).
Losing Jozy Alidore to a hamstring injury in the first match of the World Cup was a huge blow to the offense, and while Clint Dempsey was extremely effective, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann used a one-forward system most of the time. This made it difficult for Dempsey to get a lot of chances, especially since the midfielders couldn’t seem to hold onto the ball.
One of the biggest questions going into the World Cup was how Klinsmann was going to do. Major positives are that the U.S. advanced out of the Group of Death, and young players like Julian Green, John Brooks, and DeAndre Yedlin played so well. However, the decision to leave Landon Donovan off the roster still has some people questioning his judgment. There were undoubtedly some times when the U.S. needed a burst of offense (especially without Altidore), and two of the players that Klinsmann chose over Donovan, Chris Wondolowski and Brad Davis, failed to do anything effective. Wondolowski had a chance to tie the score against Belgium and give the U.S. another chance at advancing, but instead he launched the ball over the top goal post. That’s an inexcusable shot to miss, and Donovan could have made it in his sleep.
Overall, Americans should be proud of how their team performed on the biggest stage in sports. They exceeded the expectations given to them, and the new wave of young players showed that they are promising. 2018 might be a good one.