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updated: 7/2/2014 6:15 AM

U.S. soccer team far from a disappointment

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  • United States' goalkeeper Tim Howard, reacting after Belgium's Kevin De Bruyne scored the opening goal Tuesday, kept his team in the game with 16 saves.

      United States' goalkeeper Tim Howard, reacting after Belgium's Kevin De Bruyne scored the opening goal Tuesday, kept his team in the game with 16 saves.
    Associated Press

 
 

As much as we wanted to believe in this U.S. national soccer team, we always knew a long run through this World Cup was a lot to ask.

If that doesn't make you feel any better about Tuesday's 2-1 extra-time loss to Belgium, that's a good thing.

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Just getting out of the Group of Death was an accomplishment and a surprise. In the Round of 16, Belgium was just plain better than the United States, though the Americans showed heart to the bitter end.

There's nothing wrong with saying this is one of the top 16 soccer nations in the world … for now. This team earned it the hard way, but more will and should be expected in Russia in 2018 and in Qatar in 2022.

This team, however, went as far as it could go. Incredibly, this team went further than Portugal, England, Italy and defending champion Spain.

Who would have predicted that three weeks ago?

If that still doesn't ease the heartbreak, that's a good thing, too. It means you care, and you're not alone. Now we know there are an awful lot of Americans who care about American soccer.

But on a day when the United States needed a couple of players to be special, to have the game of their lives, only two did. Goalkeeper Tim Howard saved his teammates' bacon by making a whopping 16 saves, keeping the Americans in the game longer than they deserved to be.

DeAndre Yedlin entered the game in the 32nd minute and provided some much-needed energy. But to reach the World Cup quarterfinals, if your best players are your goalkeeper and your 20-year-old substitute right back, you'd better also have a little luck.

A strange bounce, an awkward deflection, nothing like that came the Americans' way.

The United States didn't keep the ball in the attacking third of the field enough, and it wasn't skilled enough when it did make the Belgium defense nervous. Too often the Americans let the Belgians off the hook.

Belgium brought on talented striker Romelu Lukaku in the 91st minute, and 2 goals quickly followed. The Americans' answer to Lukaku, Jozy Altidore, remained benched by a bad hamstring despite pregame talk that he would be available.

Kevin De Bruyne finally broke through for Belgium with a 93rd-minute goal, and Lukaku scored off a counterattack to make it 2-0 when the United States was pushing forward trying to tie the game.

It was up to 19-year-old Julian Green, seeing his first minutes of World Cup action, to give the Americans hope again with a 107th-minute goal. While the United States kept the drama in the game until the final whistle, none of his teammates' could match Green's goal despite some golden chances.

Still, these players provided their countrymen with some special memories. And this team leaves Brazil with the promise of even better things to come.

In 1990 the United States was thrilled just to qualify for the World Cup and the chance to get blown out in each of its three games. In 1994 it seemed incredible that the United States reached the Round for 16 for the first time.

In 2002 the United States made it to the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time. In 2014 the United States showed the Round of 16 should be expected every World Cup, anything less a disappointment.

There's every reason to believe the United States men's national soccer team is going to keep getting better. That's a good thing to remember.

• Follow Orrin's soccer reports on Twitter @Orrin_Schwarz.

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