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Monday, May 21, 2018
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Martin Fennelly Columns

U.S. loss not surprise, but reality bites

— At least we didn't bite anyone.

The carnival is over. Another World Cup has ended for the United States. Those Red Devils from Belgium kicked us up to Boot Hill on Tuesday, clear out of Brazil, knocking us out in the Round of 16, 2-1. All the goals came in extra time, which is overtime, but not to be confused with stoppage time, which is still added on in extra time.

And I was just getting the hang of this, too.

Well, it's bedtime.

Not even American goalkeeper Tim Howard could save us, though he saved a lot as the Belgians threw everything at him but the waffle iron — glove saves, kick saves, an extraordinary performance, 16 saves in all, the most in a World Cup match since 1966. Just so the Lightning know, I like Howard better than Evgeni Nabokov.

It wasn't enough. Belgium punched a hole in the heart of watch parties all across our great land, leaving us to wonder just how far we've really come as a soccer power, since we advanced no further in this Cup than we did in 2010, when Ghana sent us home. This time, for all our pluck, we won once, tied once, lost twice. You call that progress?

I guess U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann was right all along: It is unrealistic to think we can beat the world at its own game.

But give us a couple of more World Cups.

And maybe produce paperwork that says Lionel Messi was really born in Bradenton.

Imagine: If our lads had won Tuesday, they would have met Messi and Argentina on Saturday in the quarterfinals.

U.S.-Argentina in Brazil. A chance to mess with Messi. Imagine the build-up.

A lot of us were beginning to go daft. Maybe we've finally hit on the right generation to go goo-goo gah-gah over soccer. People were watching at work. People were watching in bars. People were watching and watching. Maybe it was the Brazil time zones, easier for viewing, but the World Cup ratings in the U.S. blew away those for NBA Finals. Yeah, pretty soon, we'll be settling presidential elections by penalty kicks.

But now it's over.

In truth, the lads had no business even getting to extra time Tuesday. Belgium dominated. If it wasn't for Howard, it could easily have been 5-0 in regulation. Instead, it was nil-nil. I hate when we have nil.

Even worse, we could have won the thing, 1-nil, and gone to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2012 if U.S. substitute Chris Wondolowski hadn't missed an easy chance, a bunny, in front of the Belgium goal in second-half stoppage time. Yes, the name Wondolowski would have become a household name, though we would have had to add a room to fit it in. If Wondo scores, well, Lake Placid, here we come.

True, our nitty, gritty grass band rallied after Belgium punched home two goals in extra time, the first coming from a Red Devil who at least had the decency to have red hair. Down a pair, the U.S. rallied around 19-year-old Julian Green. After being inserted into the lineup by Klinsmann, Green scored an amazing goal on his very first touch in his very first World Cup. We had chances after Green's goal, too, good chances, tantalizing chances, heart-stoppage time. But, no.

By the way, Green, though his family moved to Germany when he was 2 years old, was, in fact, born in ... Tampa. It's true.

If only we'd started that U-3 competitive league, he would have stayed.

I look at Julian Green and think the future is bright. Also, why didn't Klinsmann use him more in Brazil?

Yes, we all became soccer coaches this World Cup.

Maybe that's a good sign.

Then again, we've been here before, looking to better days ahead, only to run into bummers like Tuesday.

We still can't beat Belgium.

Reality has sharp teeth.

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