USMNT eliminated from World Cup in overtime loss to Belgium

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

America’s World Cup is over.

Despite a 16-save, all-world performance from U.S. Men’s National Team veteran Tim Howard and a hopeful overtime strike from young Julian Green, the U.S. find themselves ousted from Brazil on the end of a 2-1 loss to Belgium

After a scoreless 90 minutes, midfielder Kevin De Bruyne found the back of the net just three minutes into overtime, and substitute Romalu Lukaku added a second to put the match out of reach. Green subbed into the match in the second half of overtime and cut the lead in half, but that would prove to be too little, too late for the USMNT.

Belgium’s win sends the U.S. packing and sets up a quarterfinal encounter between the Red Devils and Argentina on July 4th at the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia.

Like Germany and Ghana before them, Belgium took to the attack from the opening whistle. Divock Origi faced Omar Gonzalez one-on-one near the top of the box and managed a shot that Tim Howard did well to save. Midfielder Geoff Cameron took a yellow card in the midst of the early Belgian barrage in an attempt to slow play.

By the 20th minute, the U.S. began to show positive signs of possession. Their best sequence came in the 21st minute with midfielder Michael Bradley beating two defenders, serving a pass towards captain Clint Dempsey inside the top center of the box. The Sounders’ striker took a one-time shot into the arms of Thibaut Courtois to end the play.

Belgium would answer with a chance of their own. De Bruyne beat two defenders near the top of the box, waltzed into the area and sent a hopeful opportunity rolling safely past Howard.

The U.S. enjoyed the majority of possession within the scoreless half, but lost a key player in Fabian Johnson. The German-American left the match with a muscle strain, yielding the stage to DeAndre Yedlin who quickly put his pace on display against a surprised Belgium side. The Red Devils would eventually adjust to neutralize his play and close out the half.

Belgium started the second as they did the first, putting the U.S. under siege with a blitzkrieg of opportunities. De Bruyne triggered an extended barrage with a fantastic feed in the box, finding midfielder Dries Mertens for a looping header, forcing Howard to stretch for the stop in the 47th minute. Toby Alderweireld followed with a blocked shot in the box. Marouane Fellaini came next, sending his shot high on net. Mertens would take another shot in the 60th, followed by an Origi header that rang off the crossbar.

Witsel continued the onslaught with a shot that whistled past Howard in the 69th. Origi challenged Howard in the 71st with a shot on net, but the Everton man did well to beat his effort.

With the U.S. wingers failing to break through, Klinsmann called for San Jose Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski for the ineffectual Graham Zusi in the 72nd minute. The move sent Dempsey towards the midfield and pushed Bradley into a deeper defensive position.

While hopeful, it did little to stop Belgium. Howard continued to withstand the onslaught with a series of saves, including a pair on Chelsea dynamo Eden Hazard and a vital stop on Origi in the final minutes. Vincent Kompany even joined the march on net, shanking a clear one-on-one with Howard in the 90th minute, but the U.S. keeper managed a big save over his EPL rival.

Despite their deficiencies in possession and finishing, the U.S. took Belgium into overtime.

De Bruyne made sure that achievement was short lived. The crafty defender used Matt Besler as a pick, opening up space to beat Tim Howard to the far post. Lukaku sent in the death blow just short of the second stanza.

Klinsmann took a flier on adding Julian Green for the ineffective Alejandro Bedoya. The risk worked. The young Bayern Munich II player got a toe on a cross in the box, beating Courtois in the 107th minute.

His goal reinvigorated the U.S., which came close to tying the match. Their best chance would come at end of a set play. Michael Bradley stood over a dead ball, pinged Wondolowski in the box who quickly unleashed Dempsey into a one-on-one with Courtois. His touch escaped him and the veteran keeper closed down the space before it became a problem.

The loss ends an inspiring run from the U.S., which saw the team beat expectations with qualification through the Group of Death. Like 2010, however, they see their hopes come crashing in overtime in the Round of 16.