World Cup 2014

World Cup: Former USMNT star Landon Donovan stresses context in judging team's performance

Landon Donovan

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USA TODAY Sports

CARSON, Calif. – Landon Donovan was as pleased as anyone to see the United States advance Thursday to the round of 16 at the World Cup and said he had hope the Yanks could pull off "something special" in the knockout stage.

Donovan, who watched the Americans' 1-0 loss to Germany with his LA Galaxy teammates before their training session, noted how slim is the barrier between success and failure on the world's biggest stage.

"I think you have to look at the body of work to appreciate what happened today," said Donovan, who was controversially omitted from the US roster. "The Ghana game was not a pretty game, today was not a pretty game, but that being said, the team did exactly what it needed to do to get through.

"Now had the Ghana-Portugal game gone differently and this result remain the same [for Ghana to finish second in Group G], everybody would be saying what a failure this is.

"So you have to keep it all in context, and you have to remember this exact scenario happened in 2002, where we lost the third game and got help [to advance]. In 2006, we were a sort-of-dubious penalty [awarded to Ghana] away from advancing out of the 'Group of Death' at that point, and everyone said what a failure it was.

"[In] 2010, we were two minutes away from going home as a huge failure, and it turned into a great success. And today we were a Ghana missed six-yard header, minutes after they scored their first goal, away from this being another disaster.

"So we have to keep it all in context. It's great what the team accomplished, but we're still only as far as we were last time, and the hope now is the team can do something special."

The US faces Belgium on July 1 in Salvador (4 pm ET, ESPN). The Yanks have won a knockout game just once in five tries at the World Cup, advancing to the quarterfinals in 2002. They also reached the round of 16 in 1994 and 2010 and played in the semifinals, straight from the group stage, in 1930.

This is the first time the US have advanced in successive World Cups, and Donovan, who starred at the 2002, 2006 and 2010 tournaments, wasn't sure if that represented progress.

"A lot has been made of us progressing as a soccer country," he said. "If you watch the game today, you would say Germany is still pretty far ahead of where we are, and so we have a ways to go, for sure, but it's still impressive. Getting out of the group, every time, is difficult, no matter what anybody says.

"As far as how much progress we've really made, I guess it remains to be seen. We'll see how the team does against Belgium and can then make that determination."