In fairness, I’m not convinced that the USA/Belgium game ever needed to end. It’s been my favourite match of the tournament so far, and if its final 15 minutes were still playing out in some far flung favela I’d risk the Soccerbanter riches to attend.
The final interval is what really mattered in this game. Beyond the Tim Howard story, extra time is what people will remember. The match prior to this period was largely one-sided. The Belgians dominated, and while it’s nice to give credit to the sticktoitiveness of the American team, tracking back and generating a handful of luke-warm counters does not a quarterfinalist make.
The US sorely missed the first round form of its exemplars, Clint Dempsey and Jermaine Jones. Different games from those players may have meant sneaking a 1-0 win one with a nifty counter-attack. As for Tim Howard’s special night and the what-this-means-to-US-soccer analysis, I’ll leave that to you, the reader, who is much better qualified to comment.
Belgium won the game in midfield. Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard made up for the glacial Marouanne Felaini, winning the majority of balls up for grabs in the middle third, getting service through to Origi and Lukaku (when he entered), and pressing their own runs wide for eventual service into the box.
Belgian Final Third Disappointment
Tim Howard aside, Marc Wilmots will want a word with his attackers about their finishing. Many of the shots Howard faced forced reaction saves rather than challenge him at a stretch. There were also several chances – owned largely by Origi - that failed to materialize after promising midfield build-up. They’ll need to be much more decisive against Argentina, if chances do indeed arrive.
Kevin De Bruyne
De Bruyne was unfortunate to be up against Tim Howard in the man of the match sweepstakes as he essentially ran this game. He looked dangerous for long stretches and deserved at least one additional goal. DeBruyne’s biggest let down was the Belgian team’s lack of cohesion. He also disappeared in the final 15 minutes when the States pressed, though he can’t be faulted for thinking that his efforts to that point should have been enough.
Speedy and tricky, Hazard gave Fabian Johnson trouble early on. His impact waned once DeAndre Yedlin entered the game, matching his pace and throwing some much-needed muscle at him.
Divock Origi/Kevin Mirallas
Both looked dangerous (Origi in the first half, Mirallas in the second) until the final third. From here, neither had much to offer, with the ball getting hung up in the feet of both players on occasion.
The Belgians Generally
The team looked impressive and in control, but didn’t come off as a total unit. Belgium’s significant individual contributions outclassed the output of the Americans, but as a whole, they lacked unity and couldn’t for their lives put a ball on net in a meaningful way.
Tim Howard’s performance condensed the last 7-8 years of his career into the length of a short feature film. There’s a reason he plays where he does and has the quiet respect of the entire Premiership. He willed himself into US Soccer lore on Tuesday night, but that respect should have been conferred on him long ago. Legendary stuff.
Beasley was the hardest working guy on the pitch for the Americans. He looked an occasional threat with his pace, but he lacks the presence and in-game personality to put a team on his back and will them forward in the same way as someone like…
… Clint Dempsey
Dempsey was my pick to menace this game for 90 minutes. Were the Americans to find glory on the day, Dempsey was sure to carry them there. His running the width of the pitch gave the appearance of involvement, but his only real swipe at the ball in the opening 20 minutes proved telling: he just wasn’t there. A lack of service from his midfield doesn’t let Dempsey off the hook either: his was a half-hearted performance for a team who needed much more.
Jones also got up to a fair bit of aimless running, looking lost at the top of the American midfield (I don’t think that he and Michael Bradley know what to do with each other). His industry picked up toward the end of regulation and again in the game’s final fifteen minutes, and there were a few moments where he looked a threat to score, but there just seemed to be so little in the tank at that point.
Yedlin is the sort of larger, athletic type of player in the vein of Jermaine Jones that this team should nurture through its ranks in the next few years. While not terribly disciplined in defense, Yedlin neutralized Eden Hazard’s speed and frustrated the winger physically. He also played with a determination badly needed from more American players in the first 90 minutes.
The Americans Generally
They simply left it too late. After Julian Green’s goal it was clear that belief remained among the US players. Had the game gone on much longer a second goal was surely close at hand. Despite the usual tropes about hard work, determination and conditioning, the fact is that only in the final minutes of this game did the US truly come alive and begin to influence the game. The problem, of course, is that desperate influence, exciting as it may be, is not the same as influence that is controlled and sustained.
And there we have it: good luck to the Belgians, and a bit more of “next time” for the Americans. Would it be clumsy and ill advised to suggest that the last fifteen minutes of this game symbolized US Soccer’s long-promised awakening on the international stage? Probably, but let’s do it anyway.