Despite a tough round-of-16 ouster to Belgium, several of the participating US national team players should hold their heads high after a World Cup 2014 farewell performance filled with heart and Tim Howard saves.
It took the Red Devils 34 shot attempts to crack the Howard code, a deluge that occurred despite the Nats holding the possession advantage nearly all night. Perhaps missing one painter among all the midfield and wing plumbers, the USMNT were eventually sent home because they failed to properly corral fresh legs of Belgium bull Romelu Lukaku.
GK Tim Howard (10) - If you have any beef with this grade, my mom will tell you to just shut your mouth. Howard looked like a comic book movie hero out there, with 16 saves and three authoritative punches. The Everton was otherworldly over the final 20 minutes of regulation, with a fall-away kick save on club teammate Kevin Mirallas just the first of three jaw-dropping stops over that span. In the first period of overtime, he was left no chance. We will all talk about this show for a long time.
DF Fabian Johnson (4) - The right back was having troubles at the back and no impact going forward before suffering a hamstring pull in the 32nd minute. Mere moments before that, Johnson was badly beaten twice inside four minutes.
DF Omar Gonzalez (7) - The first quarter hour was rough for the Galaxy defender and he was far too slow to crowd Lukaku on the stand-up winner, but repeatedly came up aces in between. Gonzo easily led all players with 20 clearances, mostly stayed in front of some tricky Belgium dribblers, occasionally broke pressure on the dribble and pitched in a few big shot blocks. It was World Cup "Exhibit B" that Gonzalez is capable of excelling at this level.
DF Matt Besler (5) - The Sporting KC man also made a lot of fine plays over the night, and was particularly ruthless at halting Mirallas when he rambled inside. However, he played big bad wolf Lukaku as if he was prancing gazelle starter Divock Origi and it would cost the team Belgium's opener. That was not the only time he lost the big striker and there were a handful of other errors that required cover, putting an end to his string of tidy World Cup outings.
DF DaMarcus Beasley (9) - Even a few months ago, one could not be faulted for worrying about Run DMB at left back in a World Cup. But the veteran put it all together in the nick of time, culminating in a giant performance against Belgium. Beasley was everywhere: expertly pushing the build, winning seven free kicks (four more than anyone else on the field) in the defensive end to go along with five sharp tackles, asking some questions of the defense with deep crossing and all with but one turnover. He's still big time, folks.
MF Geoff Cameron (7) - As with Gonzalez, there were some mistakes, but the back dealt with an incredible volume of pressure. Most of Cameron's lesser moments came in the last 20 minutes of regular time, but he was stepping into lanes and backing a 54/46 possession edge all night. It's also quite nice when your defensive midfielder can provide eight clearances and four blocked shots.
MF Michael Bradley (7.5) - While he could have been more involved defensively, Bradley's incisive outlet passing re-appeared with a vengeance after the hour mark. From that point on, the Toronto FC star completed 13 positive passes in or into the final third, with none finer than the lob assist that got the team back in the contest. A pair of short restarts notwithstanding, his calm work on the ball in extra time nearly got them level.
MF Jermaine Jones (7) - It was a roller coaster night for the midfield menace. He had a strong opening half hour, including a pair of accurate long balls to keep Belgium wingbacks more honest early. After that, he faded in overall impact for the next 30 minutes, looked gassed in the final third of regulation and then magically found an inspirational reserve of energy for overtime. His huge 90th-minute flick-on deserved an assist, but Jones did kill some promising rushes with wayward shots and passes. Any way you slice it, he played the final hour on sheer will.
MF Graham Zusi (5) - It was an off night overall for Zusi, who looked plain clumsy for the first 35 minutes. Zusi gave Johnson little to no help tracking back, but improved considerably in this area and others after Yedlin entered. The Sporting Kansas City ace also raised his mark some with an array of good linking touches as the US picked up their attack intent in the periods just before and after halftime. Other than his first corner kick serve, though, he was unable to put dangerous balls into the box.
MF Alejandro Bedoya (5) - The wide man was nearly invisible for the first 35 minutes, apart from a few bad turnovers in the US end. Then, he found ways to come into the game, including a game-high 11 tackles. He also provided some push for the attack, but nothing in the way of end production. He and Zusi are chief among those to blame for Dempsey going 25 first half minutes and 15 after the break without a single touch.
FW Clint Dempsey (7) - Basically, Deuce did everything but produce the hero moment. His assortment of unnerving flicks and touches were present. The team definitely perked up when he dropped back to aid possession and build (which goes to show how much the Jozy Altidore injury hurt this team). Perhaps his touch was an ounce heavy on the wizardly set piece play, but that seems a real nit-pick.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann (7) - Ohhh, where to begin? While the starting wing play was a key letdown, the coach was able to successfully deal with the Johnson monkey wrench and Green justified his selection with one touch. The Cameron move also worked to a point, as did the renewed trust in Gonzalez. All the players battled as if they believed to the bone, and one can not fault Klinsi for the bad turnovers and lost challenges that conspired to grant Belgium space so often. As for that late set-piece construction: Bravo!
On the down side, the Landon Donovan question (as well as the one about Mix Diskerud's perfect non-participation in Brazil) remains with so few ideas coming in attack for the third time in the tournament. With neither of the No. 10 shirts in this knockout game, a charge that he overplayed using three holding-type midfielders can be justified. Still, the team did well enough to get back in, but the starting wingers and Klinsmann's other sub fell flat in the big game. It can be argued that this was the main difference between an epic defeat and a long-awaited return to the quarters.
DF DeAndre Yedlin (7.5) - There were some defensive errors shortly after intermission and during the first overtime session, but make no mistake, this was a grand hello to the world stage for Yedlin. For segments of the game, he was the US attack. The Seattle Sounders youngster was constantly streaking down the flank to provide dangerous crosses. He also chipped in with some important recovery plays in defense, but one in particular was required because of his own bad turnover.
FW Chris Wondolowski (4) - Wondo had a couple of nice possession plays to bring his teammates into attack and he perfectly laid off to Dempsey on the rehearsed set-piece. But let's face reality. He was there to clean up the garbage and failed given three opportunities. His biggest chance of all should have won the game at the regulation death.
MF Julian Green (8) - Well, hello there! Not sure what more one could possibly ask of Green, really. His first career World Cup touch ended up in the back net, with style. Green then continued to pressure Belgium's defense with both the pass and dribble.