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Tim Howard is elite, U.S. team is not

United States' goalkeeper Tim Howard reacts after Belgium's Romelu Lukaku scored his side's second goal during World Cup round 16

United States' goalkeeper Tim Howard reacts after Belgium's Romelu Lukaku scored his side's second goal 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/Julio Cortez)

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Updated: July 2, 2014 12:46PM

The United States’ 2-1 loss to Belgium in the second round of the World Cup on Tuesday had all the elements of an instant classic.

There was adversity, drama and a never-quit attitude that will give U.S. soccer fans reason to cheer this team when it returns home.

Yet it still was outclassed by a better team and is looking up at the world’s elite.

For the U.S., it isn’t just about winning the World Cup. It’s about winning over a country and playing to promote a sport that still trails others. Maybe the team made some headway in that regard.

But if soccer is to catch on in the United States, the national team will have to do better on the world stage. Its effort against Belgium shouldn’t go without applause, but it can’t mask the fact that the U.S. isn’t considered among the world’s elite.

However, U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard is in that class. He proved that with a 16-save effort in one of the best performances in World Cup history.

Howard was the reason the United States made it out of the “Group of Death.” Though Howard will — and should — get most of the credit, the United States proved it’s an upper-echelon defensive team.

The questions that linger are on offense. The U.S. was unable to play the attacking, European style that coach Jurgen Klinsmann is trying to employ. The Americans sat back and allowed Belgium to play that game.

Stats sometimes don’t tell the full story, but total shots did. Belgium 39, U.S. 16.

Still, the U.S. 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 score in extra time after the team fell behind 2-0 heading into the final 15 minutes.

Finishing chances separates great teams from good teams in the World Cup. The teams that fall short talk about the chances they had.

This isn’t to say the U.S. could have played better Tuesday. Only that its best needs to be better.


Twitter: @SethGruen

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