The United States' 2014 FIFA World Cup dream is over after a round-of-16 exit to Belgium, but Jurgen Klinsmann and his coaching staff will be proud of the effort put up by his players and, in particular, the performance of goalkeeper Tim Howard.
Belgium struck twice in the opening 15 minutes of extra time after the two sides drew 0-0 in 90 minutes, and a Julian Green volley in reply wasn't quite enough to take the game to penalties.
However, despite USA's impressive all-round performance, it could all have been over much earlier if not for the heroics of stopper Howard.
Attack vs. Defence
Belgium were allowed to attack down the flanks, particularly the left, as United States sought to flood the central areas of the pitch and stop runs through into the penalty area with their deep line. It worked to an extent, with plenty of attacks repelled by sheer force of numbers and a few last-ditch tackles from Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez, but crosses and the pace of starting striker Divock Origi certainly opened them up on a number of occasions.
All told, the European side registered a hefty 39 shots during the 120 minutes, with 17 of them on target and leaving Howard with work to do, as per WhoScored.com.
Tim Howard ended the game with 15 saves, more than any other player in a #WorldCup game between 1966 and 2014 (via@OptaJoe)— Ben Smith (@BenSmithBBC) July 1, 2014
The 104-cap stopper was well up to the task. His decision-making, aerial judgement and distribution was highly impressive, often throwing out to the wide men to try to initiate a counter-attack for his team.
Howard was immediately involved, denying Origi within a minute of kick-off and continuing throughout the initial 90 minutes.
Defesa de Howard em finalização de Origi https://t.co/oeS49w980f— Noticias do Futebol (@Fute_Noticia) July 1, 2014
As USA tired somewhat and looked like settling for preventing Belgium from scoring as the game drew toward full-time, Howard was called into action more often, with his late parry from Vincent Kompany's run and scuffed shot particularly impressive.
It continues a theme of largely excellent displays from Howard at the 2014 World Cup, which he may consider his crowning achievement at the international level, having also played in the 2010 finals and won the Gold Cup in 2007.
With over a century of caps to his name, he has proven one of the most invaluable members of the USA squad in Brazil.
Impressive though he has been, Howard is 35 years old now and is not likely to still be in place for the next World Cup.
While he could continue for a time yet—his season-long displays with Everton in 2013-14 did not suggest an imminent demise for sure—United States will certainly be needing to have one eye on the next World Cup qualification campaign already and be working out who his successor will be.
Brad Guzan is an able stopper but is just shy of 30 already himself, while none of the younger stoppers have yet proven themselves at the top level. An opening will arise, but there is no obvious, long-term candidate ready to step up.
For that reason alone, Howard may well continue on for the time being—and after his heroics against Belgium, few United States fans would be inclined to complain.
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