They captured the eyes and hearts of a suddenly awakened soccer nation, who gathered in unprecedented numbers to watch the world's game.
But the end of the ride came at the exact same point as four years ago: With an overtime loss in the World Cup's round of 16.
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Kevin De Bruyne finally beat goalkeeper Tim Howard in the third minute of extra time, Romelu Lukaku scored 12 minutes later to give Belgium a two-goal lead, and the Red Devils hung on for a 2-1 victory Tuesday night.
Before exiting, the U.S. showed the spunk that captured America's attention. Julian Green, at 19 the youngest player on the U.S. roster, stuck out his right foot to volley in Michael Bradley's pass over the defense in the 107th minute, two minutes after entering the game.
They nearly tied it up in the 114th, when Clint Dempsey peeled off the ball and was stopped point-blank by goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois after being fed by Bradley on a free kick.
But it wasn't enough, and U.S. players fell to the field at the final whistle in their all-white uniforms like so many crumpled tissues.
Soccer fans in Chicago linked outside the home of the Chicago Bears American football team for the World Cup viewing party.
Doors to the stadium opened to the public at 1:30 p.m. for the 3 p.m. game. By 12:30 p.m., fans wearing face paint were already tailgating, drinking beer and kicking soccer balls around the parking lot of Soldier Field.
Officials expected about 20,000 people to attend the event.
Previous viewing events have been held outdoors at the city's Grant Park. But U.S. Soccer officials noted the stadium was a spacious venue easily accessible via public transportation. The stadium's capacity is 61,500.
The Chicago Transit Authority extended services in the morning and afternoon to accommodate fans traveling to the game.