Despite a record performance by goalie Tim Howard and a shot of adrenalin in the final 12 minutes by two USA rookies the bookies had it right, Belgium was the better team. Yet perhaps the future is brighter with the World Cup drawing about 27 million viewers, second in sports only to the Super Bowl for a single sports broadcast, according to overnights.
The headlines said it all.
Human wall Tim Howard sets World Cup save record in
U.S. loss to Belgium
As one story reported...
Howard's performance emerged as a brilliant star turn in a tense game that saw Belgium's lauded young stars make repeated runs at the U.S. net, streaking past American defenders. They sent the ball high and low – and for more than 90 minutes, Howard turned them all away.
But two shots eluded the goalie in the extra periods, dashing the Americans' hopes of reaching the quarterfinals.
"We dreamed and again we fell short of our dream," Howard said afterwards. "Gosh, we were right there. We nearly had it. But this is a young group and we'll be back for more."
To put the 16 saves in perspective, we'll note that back in 2010, Howard was named man of the match for making 8 saves against
in a 1-1 draw that was also his World Cup debut. His accomplishment in
Tuesday's game might glow even brighter in the future, as a talented and young
Belgian team could go on to rain goals down on their opponents. England
's captain, Vincent Kompany,
joined in praising Howard Tuesday. Belgium
Here is what The New York Times had to say about the game.
Wild Ride by
End, but Soccer Is the Winner U.S.
Trying to figure out where soccer fits into the fabric of
America is a
popular topic but, for one afternoon at least, there was this unexpected truth:
All around the country, from coast to coast and through the nation’s belly,
sports fans of every kind were inspired by the performance of a soccer goalkeeper.
In a loss.
When it was over, the fans at the shimmering Arena Fonte Nova applauded knowingly, as if paying tribute to the ride this team provided. Americans purchased more tickets to games at this tournament than fans from any country other than
Television ratings in the United
States blasted through ceilings, surpassing
those of the N.B.A. finals or the World Series. Watch parties popped up in
places far more varied than just craft breweries in Brooklyn, with fans
gathering everywhere from Hermosa Beach in California to a library in Birmingham,
Ala., to the Tulsa Drillers’ minor league
baseball stadium in Oklahoma.
A gathering at Grant Park in
Chicago was moved to Soldier Field to
accommodate a crowd reported to have exceeded 25,000.
World Cups have been growing in popularity among Americans for some time, but this tournament has felt different. Explanations for the surge vary, with some pointing to
time zone being favorable for American viewers, especially compared to South Africa
four years ago. Others say soccer’s spike is simply the result of a growing
Hispanic population in the United
States as well as the inevitable aging of
Millenials. A great number of soccer-loving children have now become consumer
“These are all young people who grew up with the game, whether it be the English Premier League or Major League Soccer, and they don’t need to be convinced that soccer is a sport that is worthy of their attention,” said Don Garber, the commissioner of M.L.S. “The country has changed. This is a new
Statistics seem to support that claim. Fourteen percent of people between the ages of 12 and 24 said professional soccer was their favorite sport, second only to the N.F.L., according to Rich Luker, who runs a sports research firm. That means a greater number of fans are more likely to continue following the sport even when the pageantry of the World Cup is over.
“Fans are connecting the dots,” said Jeff L’Hote, who runs a soccer-focused management consultancy. “One of the great things about the continued maturation of the sport is people know that Messi plays for
Barcelona, not just Argentina.”
Whatever the baseline theory, the sheer entertainment value of this tournament has piqued interest even more. Including Tuesday’s games, 154 goals have been scored, which is more than the total for the entire 2010 World Cup. Also, for casual American fans who find watching games end in ties about as appealing as doing their taxes, the past few weeks have been a revelation: There were only nine draws in 48 group stage games, or four fewer than the average over the past four World Cups.
The grittiness of this
United States team was an
attraction, too. Drama, in one form or another, has followed the United States
team ever since its pretournament training camp in May, starting with the
uproar over Coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision to leave Landon Donovan at home.
Then came concerns about whether the Americans could win a must-have game against
(yes, barely); whether they could get a decent result against Portugal (yes, agonizingly); and whether they
could avoid a blowout against Germany
“I think every player went to his limit,” Klinsmann said.
Tuesday followed a similarly tense script.
won all three of its group games with late goals, was the aggressor from the
start, neutralizing Klinsmann’s attempts to open up the American attack.
Divock Origi and Dries Mertens had early chances for
Belgium, and things got worse for the United States
when Fabian Johnson, one of the most reliable players on the outside, pulled up
with a hamstring injury after half an hour.
States spent most of the rest of the game
buckled in, holding off an onslaught from the Belgians with Howard standing
squarely in the middle. Making it to extra time felt like a small victory on
its own, but Lukaku’s fresh legs led to Kevin De Bruyne finally lashing a shot
past Howard from close range. Moments later, Lukaku followed with a goal of his
own, and the American fans slumped. The players, though, gathered together
during the short break between the two 15-minute halves of extra time and
steeled themselves for one last burst.
“If we were going home,” midfielder Michael Bradley said, “we wanted to go home going for it.”
And they did. Julian Green, a World Cup rookie, provided a flicker of hope with a smooth volley two minutes into the final period, and Howard made another slew of important saves to keep the game in range while the
pushed and pushed and pushed.
The chances were there. Jermaine Jones blasted a shot over the net. A header went awry. Dempsey, at the end of a gorgeous passing play from a free kick, had his attempt smothered just yards away from the goal.
It was tantalizing and teasing. But this time the miracle never came. When the final whistle sounded, many of the American players simply collapsed, as if the strings holding up their legs had just been cut.
Howard was not one of them. He bent at the waist, only for a moment, his hands on his knees and his mouth open. Then he stood up tall and walked forward with his chest out.
It was fitting: Even in defeat, his tournament over, the American goalkeeper refused to tumble.
Ken Belson and Marc Tracy contributed reporting from