One man may have played his final World Cup game, and boy, did he go out in style. Another made his first World Cup showing and made his country believe when all seemed lost.
The United States may have fallen to Belgium, 2-1, in extra time, but both Tim Howard and Julian Green gave Americans something to remember in defeat.
For much of the 90 minutes, Belgium controlled possession and created far more dangerous chances. But for those 90 minutes, they simply couldn't solve Howard. And you better believe folks on Twitter noticed.
Mark Schlereth of ESPN put it simply:
Michael David Smith of Pro Football Talk was a little more creative:
Matteo Bonetti of beIN Sport caught this shot of Howard in action:
That's about right. Meanwhile, the Comedy Central Indecision Twitter account sees a bright future in politics for Mr. Howard:
And Will Brinson of CBS.... Well, you just have to read this tweet; it's too perfect to ruin with a preface:
For what it's worth, there were about, oh, 1,235,739,493 amazing Howard tweets during the game, so the above is just a sampling. Twitter's game was almost as on-point as Howard's was.
For 90 minutes, Belgium threw everything at Howard and just couldn't connect. Then in the span of 15 minutes, they beat him twice. The man who came on and made all the difference was Romelu Lukaku, who made two excellent runs to set up the first goal and score the second.
But if anyone was unsurprised by the impact Lukaku made, it was likely Howard, as Jeremy Schaap of ESPN noted:
Still, it will be remembered as a disappointment for Howard and this team. John McClain of the Houston Chronicle tweeted what many Americans were probably feeling in the wake of this loss:
Pathetic might be a bit strong, but there's no doubt Howard deserved better than what his teammates were able to offer. That's soccer, folks.
But just how good was Howard? Well, he was good enough to be the Man of the Match in defeat, per Ives Galarcep of Soccer by Ives:
And he was historically good, per Paul Carr of ESPN:
This performance won't be forgotten. It was truly one of the greatest showings from a USMNT player in World Cup history. Perhaps the greatest.
While this could be Howard's last World Cup, we're going to see plenty more from Green. The young star-in-the-making had yet to appear in this World Cup after being one of the more controversial additions, but with the U.S. trailing 2-0 at the start of the second extra-time session, late substitute Green got the United States right back into the game with a wonder goal.
Watch and enjoy, courtesy of ESPN FC:
What a pass from the much maligned Michael Bradley. And lordy, what a finish from Green.
That put Green is some lofty company, as Carr noted:
ESPN Stats & Info added:
That goal—and goodness, watch it again, what a great goal it was—didn't just represent an amazing moment for Green, or a last-moment spark for the United States. It was also some vindication for Jurgen Klinsmann, who took some heat for taking players like Green over Landon Donovan.
The always hilarious Men in Blazers were quickly on the Green bandwagon:
Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports was a bit more pragmatic, perhaps, in his defense of Green's inclusion:
Green has all the makings of becoming a star if he can get continual play at the club level and continue to progress internationally. Without question, folks got a glimpse of what both Klinsmann and Bayern Munich have seen in him thus far.
And so one man's potential swan song is another man's coming-out party. It takes veterans and rookies to win at the World Cup. Today, the United States got big performances from both.
Unfortunately, it wasn't quite enough to defeat a superior Belgian side.