10 Defining Moments in USMNT's 2014 World Cup Campaign

Tre' AtkinsonFeatured ColumnistJuly 5, 2014

10 Defining Moments in USMNT's 2014 World Cup Campaign

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    Themba Hadebe/Associated Press

    The United States men's national soccer team captured the hearts of millions at the 2014 World Cup before being eliminated by Belgium. As we look back at the U.S. campaign with fondness, it is clear that Americans can feel nothing but pride for their team's run.

    Soccer is a game that is always made up of many little moments that come together to create a masterpiece. With that being said, let's now take a look back at the 10 moments that most defined the U.S. World Cup campaign.

    For this list, we will go match-by-match (following the first defining moment) to look at the progression of the U.S. team.

Leaving Landon Donovan out of the World Cup Squad

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    Gus Ruelas/Associated Press

    This was one of the most defining moments of the U.S.' World Cup campaign before the team even boarded the plane for Brazil. Landon Donovan, one of the greatest Americans to ever play the game, would not be in the squad.

    Even after the team was eliminated, this is one of the most talked-about and drama-filled issues in USMNT history. 

    Some think Donovan was not included because he simply was not in good form. Others believe the personal tension between the 32-year-old and Jurgen Klinsmann had something to do with the decision.

    However, it could have just been that the U.S. was going in a new direction, focused more on team unity and developing youth.

    Regardless of what the reasons actually were, the jury is still undecided on if it was the right call or not. Had Donovan come along, maybe things would have ended differently, but there is no way of knowing.

Clint Dempsey's Opening Goal Against Ghana

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    Associated Press

    Going into the World Cup, the U.S. was well-aware that it would take a tremendous effort to make it out of what they were calling the "group of death." An opening match against rivals Ghana meant America needed a win to start their campaign, and things got underway rather quickly.

    Not even one minute after the opening whistle had sounded, captain Clint Dempsey danced between the Ghana defense and slid home a very early opening goal for the Yanks.

    American fans never had time to sit down and were thus already on their feet when the magic happened. The U.S. had just sent a message that they were here to play and would demand to be taken seriously.

    Looking back, Dempsey's early goal may be one of the best in U.S. history, and it was just what the Yanks needed to shake the Ghana curse off their backs.

Jozy Altidore's Injury

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    Dolores Ochoa/Associated Press

    Dempsey's opening goal wasn't the only decisive moment early in the Ghana match. Sadly, Jozy Altidore was forced to leave the pitch after the 20-minute mark when he picked up a hamstring injury, via NESN.

    At the time, there was a lot of worry over what would happen next. Many fans wondered if he would be fit for the next game, while others doubted he would play again in the World Cup.

    From that moment, America spent the rest of the World Cup struggling offensively. The team could not build their attacks as they have been used to doing, and Dempsey was forced to deputize as the lone striker in the next three matches.

    Many still wonder what could have happened if Altidore had not been injured. Truly, losing their star striker had a massive role in what happened with the U.S. in Brazil.

John Brooks' Winning Header

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    Hassan Ammar/Associated Press

    Things got scary for the U.S. after Ghana eventually drew level. With Altidore out of the match, America struggled to create chances and it looked as though a victory would not happen.

    That was when John Brooks, a 21-year-old in his first-ever World Cup match, became a U.S. hero.

    America lined up to take a corner in the 86th minute, and Brooks rose to send his header past the Ghana keeper. The U.S. held on to the lead to win 2-1 and prove that they would never give up until the final whistle.

    The USMNT had finally silenced the Ghana ghosts and were on their way to escaping the "group of death."

Jermaine Jones Levels the Score Against Portugal

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    Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    Portugal took an early 1-0 lead against the U.S. in the second round of group play action, and America looked shaky. Coming out of the break, the Yanks needed to turn things around, and that is exactly what Jermaine Jones did.

    Just after the hour mark, Jones received the ball well outside the box. The American midfielder put one touch on the ball, then curled a beautiful effort around the defense and past the outstretched arms of Portugal's Beto.

    It was yet another defining moment of American ingenuity and failure to give up. Just when it looked like the U.S. were going to be done in, they silenced the critics and got right back into the game.

    Clint Dempsey would take the lead a bit later, showing that America's "never say die" mentality is what the USMNT is all about.

Portugal Equalize in Stoppage Time

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    Associated Press

    With a 2-1 lead over Portugal, five minutes were added on and the U.S. tried their hardest to hold back Cristiano Ronaldo and company. But despite America's toughest efforts, they could not keep Portugal at bay forever. 

    Well into stoppage time, Ronaldo whipped in a wonderful cross that found the head of Silvestre Varela. The Portugal attacker nodded his effort past Tim Howard and the match would soon end 2-2.

    It was a gut-wrenching draw for America. The team had fought so hard for the lead, only to watch it snatched away in the final seconds.

    Mental lapses would be America's undoing in Brazil. Michael Bradley was the one to give away possession for Portugal's equalizer, and he would also be responsible for the U.S.'s loss to Belgium.  

Standing Firm Against Germany

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    Hassan Ammar/Associated Press

    It is hard to nail down just one key moment for the U.S. against Germany.

    Going into the match, both sides just needed a draw to guarantee their spot in the next round, but neither team was going to lay back in this one. Germany attacked America with a lot of force, but the Yanks refused to be broken down easily.

    The U.S. defense held strong throughout the first half, with Tim Howard coming up with a few big saves. Thomas Muller would finally be able to give the Germans a 1-0 lead after the break, capitalizing on a rebounded shot, but that would be it.

    Germany won the match 1-0, but Americans certainly didn't see it as a defeat. The draw was enough to guarantee safe passage into the knockout stages, and fans were immensely proud of how hard the Yanks fought against such a strong opponent.

Every Single Tim Howard Save Against Belgium

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    Natacha Pisarenko/Associated Press

    For the sake of sanity, we will group all 16 of Tim Howard's saves against Belgium as one major defining moment. According to MLSSoccer.com, Howard set a World Cup record for saves in one match and was the man of the match without question.

    From the opening-minute save against Divock Origi to the countless stops as the match progressed, Howard kept the U.S. alive in what was one of the biggest matches in USMNT history.

    Sadly, Belgium would finally be able to break through the Howard wall in extra time to score twice. The American defense did not give Howard enough help, and he couldn't be expected to do it all by himself.

    Howard once again proved that he is one of the best keepers on the planet. He refused to be beaten and was as vocal as ever. Though America lost the game, they won the hearts of million of viewers, both in the U.S. and across the globe.

Julian Green's Goal Against Belgium

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    Matt Dunham/Associated Press

    Julian Green was relatively unknown when Jurgen Klinsmann called him up for his first match with the USMNT. The 19-year-old kid would soon be slated for the U.S. World Cup roster as well, but he didn't see the pitch until the final minutes against Belgium.

    He may have only played a few minutes, but his quality was undeniable.

    As soon as Green came on the match changed. The U.S. attack had new life and energy, and the rookie's flair gave Belgium constant problems.

    Not long after the second half of extra time kicked off, Green would have his moment. With his very first shot in his first-ever World Cup appearance, the Bayern Munich prodigy struck a fine effort past Thibaut Courtois to get America back into the game.

    The U.S. had Belgium on the ropes, but the equalizer would never come. America had been eliminated, but could only hold their heads high after such a strong run at the 2014 World Cup.

    In the moment, Green's goal was a sign of hope. Looking back, it meant so much more. It showed that America does have a future in this sport and that the USMNT is here to stay. 

Not Playing Jozy Altidore Against Belgium

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    Matt Dunham/Associated Press

    Our last defining moment of the U.S. World Cup campaign is yet another "what if" issue—Jurgen Klinsmann keeping Jozy Altidore on the bench against Belgium.

    After his hamstring injury, Altidore was cleared to play against Belgium. He didn't start, but he was healthy and ready to come off the bench. Everyone expected him to take the field at some time, but it never happened.

    As the match went into extra time, fans thought that he would surely come on as a super sub, but he didn't. Belgium took a 2-0 lead, and Altidore remained in his seat.

    Was Altidore really not fit enough to play, or did Klinsmann simply not think he was the right player to bring on? The world will never know, but the decision to keep Altidore on the bench will leave Americans wondering what could have been.

     

    Which moments were the most decisive for the United States? Will the U.S. go even further in the next World Cup? Leave your thoughts and comments below!