Four more years. That’ll have to be the adopted mantra once again because this particular cycle for the United States men’s national team is kaput. Four years after the extra-time heartbreak in South Africa, another 120 minutes transpired eerily similar Tuesday in Salvador, Brazil, as the USMNT was bounced from this summer’s World Cup by Belgium.
The 2-1 victory by the Belgians asserted their spot in the quarterfinals against Lionel Messi and Argentina, leaving the Americans to their own haunted thoughts of what again transpired. Without forward Jozy Altidore for essentially a fourth straight match, the Americans were put on their heels as the Belgians forced the issue, putting heat on the defense and goalkeeper Tim Howard. But Howard’s epic 16-save performance wasn’t enough. Kevin De Bruyne gave Belgium the lead in the 93rd minute — the precise time Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan broke American spirits in 2010 — and substitute Romelu Lukaku doubled it in the 105th. Julian Green pulled one back and Clint Dempsey nearly equalized, but to no avail.
Last four years? Poof. Gone. Now the USMNT will hope the door is cracked open for 2018 in Russia.
Player grades for the U.S.’s 2-1 loss to Belgium:
Goalkeeper Tim Howard (10) • His 16-save performance, most since 1966, will go down as arguably the best in the modern World Cup history. Sad swan song for arguably the world’s top goalkeeper.
Defender DaMarcus Beasley (7.5) • The 32-year-old might have seen the end of his national team career, but what a career it was. A four-time World Cup player, Beasley was a menace against the Belgians.
Defender Matt Besler (6) • The Sporting Kansas City man was strong for much of the night, but understandably gassed as the game went on. Was beaten badly by Lukaku on second goal.
Defender Omar Gonzalez (6.5) • Had a strong outing and was everywhere in terms of clearances as the Belgians pressed against the U.S. back line. Will have stiff competition for his spot ahead of 2018.
Defender Fabian Johnson (5) • A stinging loss for the U.S. Another hamstring injury hamstrung the Americans in the 32nd minute as the dynamic attacker was taken off.
Midfielder Geoff Cameron (6) • A controversial move as Cameron replaced RSL captain Kyle Beckerman in the midfield. Cameron did well at times to keep Belgium from breaking.
Midfielder Jermaine Jones (4.5) • Arguably the best American in the group stage, Jones hit the floor. He looked beat. His passes were heavy and didn’t provide that much in the attacks.
Midfielder Graham Zusi (4) • He accumulated two assists in this tournament, but struggled mightily everywhere else during his time on the field. Maybe was asked to do too much.
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya (4.5) • A forgettable World Cup ended unforgettably for Bedoya. He was solid as usual in tracking back, but was rarely a threat going forward.
Midfielder Michael Bradley (6.5) • The best performance by Bradley, but still not good enough for his standards. Was tasked with playing out of his natural position and assisted on Green’s goal.
Forward Clint Dempsey (6) • It was Deuce vs. The World up top. Dempsey, without Altidore, didn’t have much operating room as a lone target forward. Missed chance to equalize in the 115th minute.
Forward Chris Wondolowski (4) • The sitter that soared. While it did seem Wondolowski was whistled off side in the 93rd minute, the point-blank shot three feet was never close.
Midfielder Julian Green (7) • The youngster had 15 minutes and he capitalized on them. Scored a goal in his World Cup debut and is now cap-tied to the U.S.
Defender DeAndre Yedlin (8) • Answered all questions of his ability to play at the highest level after coming on for Johnson and being arguably the best player on the field for nearly 90 minutes.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann (6.5) • Some head-scratchers from the USMNT boss. Cameron for Beckerman is one, but holding onto his last two subs when clearly his team needed offensive and possession-based boosts seemed odd. Ultimately, Altidore’s injury thoroughly handcuffed Klinsmann as there was no real replacement option.