Almost a week after watching the U.S. get eliminated from the 2014 World Cup at the hands of a 2-1 loss to Belgium, it is hard to be truly sorry. Remember back in December 2013 and the World Cup draw, no one expected the U.S. to do much. But these boys escaped the Group of Death and played Belgium for 120 minutes and could have equalized or won. Hardly anyone expected the U.S. to make the Round of 16. The U.S. was one half-volley or one set piece or one missed save by Courtois to advance to the quarterfinals.
I think the USMNT is on a good footing going forward. There is much youth in the squad and that bodes well for the future. I will have more going forward on that score in future posts. However, I want to take the time to thank the veterans, the men on the back side of 30 who are unlikely to see 2018 in Russia. That is not say they won't have a role going forward transitioning to the World Cup 2018 USMNT, but let's face it Father Time is a cruel S.O.B. and there are always those young and hungry guys chomping at your heels.
So taking a look at five of the World Cup 2014 starters and stars who played their way into our hearts.
Tim Howard--yes, goalkeepers have a longer shelf-life than field players and Howard stands among the greatest goalkeepers the U.S. has ever produced. How you rank Tony Meoloa, Kasey Keller, Brad Friedel and Howard depends largely upon your age and how you came up through the U.S. Soccer system, but you would be hard pressed to name a better four keepers for any country who have manned the net over 24 years and seven World Cups than those men. At age 36, Howard could be in the prime of his playing career and a 16 save performance against Belgium shows that the man can still stop the shots. But Howard will be 40 at the next World Cup...he will be old enough to be some of the squad member's father. Yes, I believe Howard could still play at the highest level in four years, but will Klinsmann let him? Will Howard let himself do so?
Clint Dempsey--Deuce got screwed this World Cup. With Jozy Altidore going down, Deuce was called upon to play in a role that does not suit him. That is a bit sad to see because I would have loved to have seen him roaming the channels and the penalty area like pissed off Texas rattlesnake ready to strike. But Dempsey is 32 and not likely to make the next World Cup squad to redeem his memory. He plays with flair, he can score, he has the quintessential American attitude of someone who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, made good, but never lost that wrong side of the tracks swagger disappear. But the mileage on the legs will doom him.I will never forget how heartbroken Dempsey was following the 2009 Confederations Cup final, holding the Bronze Boot trophy, tears in his eyes at losing the heartbreaker to Brazil. Dempsey is a quality player and deserves all the accolades he received, but his time is measured--one only need look at how Jurgen Klinsmann handled Landon Donovan.
Jermaine Jones--injury prevented him from playing in 2010 in South Africa. But for my money, he was the best player on the U.S. team in the group stage--far and away. Say what you want about German Americans on Klinmann's squad, Jones showed all the characteristics of an American player, playing till the final whistle or till he dropped. His goal against Portugal will be one of my favorite memories of this World Cup. His box to box play, his willingness to sacrifice his body to the game, and the infamous image of his hair during the Snow Game against Costa Rica all make certain that he will live in U.S. lore for a long time to come.
DeMarcus Beasley--what can you say about Run DMB?
- The only American to play in four World Cups.
- A man who so completely reinvented himself as a player, to step into the left back position (even if he didn't like it to start) and play better than men 10 years younger than himself.
- To see him defend on an island against Ghana, against Portugal, against Germany and against Belgium, taking on and outsmarting world class players.
It was a sight to behold. Beasley made so few mistakes that it hard to imagine that he played in his fourth World Cup. Then after 270 minutes of defending, to play 120 minutes against Belgium and to be bombing down the left flank like the DMB of 2002 it was hard to realize that this is a man who has spent more than 12 years off and on the USMNT but always peaking at the right time, fulfilling the roles every coached asked of him. Beasley's place in the pantheon of American soccer is assured...but he did it on terms that might not suggest that he is done (five World Cups anyone?). He also did it quiet, which I love.
Kyle Beckerman--my favorite dreadlocked hobbit. Beckerman proved that you don't have to be the greatest athlete, the fastest man on the squad or even the best technical player to be indespensible. If not for Klinmann's fear of Marouene Fellani's height, we could have seen one of the classic hair battles in the World Cup: Beckerman's Dreads vs. Fellani's 'Fro. Beckerman could have made a difference for the USMNT in the Belgium match. But coulda, woulda, shoulda. To make his first World Cup squad at his age, Beckerman proved that if you fill a role as completely, and as completely effective, as he does there is a place in the squad for you. When many people thought Beckerman would be a back up to Jermaine Jones or Michael Bradley, he proved to be as important as Tim Howard. Beckerman may not have had the length of a USMNT career as Howard or Beasley, but he certainly had a big impact and set the standard for defensive midfielders for Klinsmann going foward. Did you see that Perry Kitchen and Will Trapp?
These five men will possibly see action in the 2015 Gold Cup and maybe we will see one or two of them in the Copa America. These are great players, who played the game the American way--without apology and without quitting. But like I said before, Father Time is a cantankerous bastard and he marches ever on.
Thanks guys--for every memory.