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Belgian ail: USA ousted from World Cup in extra time

United States' goalkeeper Tim Howard talks Belgium's Vincent Kompany after Belgium defeated USA 2-1 extrtime advance quarterfinals during World Cup

United States' goalkeeper Tim Howard talks to Belgium's Vincent Kompany after Belgium defeated the USA 2-1 in extra time to advance to the quarterfinals during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Belgium and the USA at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil, Tuesday, July 1, 2014. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

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Updated: July 1, 2014 11:42PM



Two incontrovertible facts came out of the United States’ 2-1 loss to Belgium in the second round of the World Cup: The U.S. is far from where it needs to be offensively and if it hopes to improve on this year’s effort, it better hope goalkeeper Tim Howard doesn’t retire before the next World Cup in 2018.

Howard was the reason the United State even made it this far, out of the group of death and just a few missed touches from advancing.

Howard totaled 17 saves and one more would have forced the game to penalty kicks. It was one of the greatest performances for a goalkeeper in World Cup history but no one can be expected to stop the onslaught of 39 shots the Belgians mustered. The United States could only manage 16.

Had it not been for Howard, the score might have been as lopsided as any in this World Cup.

The United States had its chances. Substitute Chris Wondolowski could have ended the game had he gotten a better chance on a ball right in front of the goal toward the end of the second half. Forward Clint Dempsey nearly tied the game in extra time after the United States found itself staring at a 2-0 deficit heading into the game’s last 15 minutes.

Before the game Dempsey, Wondowlowski and company had to know that there would be few chances against a Belgian squad loaded with stars from the English Premier League.

Finishing chances separates great teams from the good in the World Cup.

Belgium dominated possession for much of the first half while the U.S. played some glorified brand of kickball. It was a far cry from the type of game the United States needed to win and eventually appeared to tire Team USA as it looked to mount a comeback.

Howard was tasked with contorting his body every which way in trying to deflect shots. Balls came across the face of the goal, and the Belgians played balls through the box but Howard was great at cutting down angles.

A valiant effort in extra time will curry favor among the soccer faithful stateside but it won’t do anything to close the gap between the United States and the world’s elite.

It will only put more pressure on whoever is in goal, which hopefully will be Howard in 2018.

Email: sgruen@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SethGruen



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