Monday, June 28, 2010

And they're done...

The anticipation had mounted. The backing had reached a fever pitch. And a country that had seen some serious divisiveness had almost come together.

But alas, the U.S. National Soccer Team's run in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa came to an end Saturday in Rustenburg, South Africa, with a 2-1 loss to Ghana. It ended in much the same way the American team's run had gone, with the U.S. falling behind early and having to scratch back. Ghana scored first at the five-minute mark, but Landon Donovan tied it up at 61' after the referee finally called a penalty kick (more on that in a minute). But after going into extra time, Ghana's Aasamoah Gyan scored the game winner in the first minute, and the U.S. couldn't come back in the remaining 29 minutes.

So what happened? Why did the U.S. get eliminated by Ghana for the second straight World Cup?

First, you must give a tip of the hat to Ghana, who showed they may actually belong among the big squads of the world. Gyan got the game winner, and Kevin-Prince Boateng got the first goal just four minutes into the first half. Plus, Andrew Ayew was a speedy terror the entire game, including setting up Gyan's game winner along the left wing as goalkeeper Richard Kingson kept pretty much everything out the entire game. They should give Uruguay a good fight in the quarterfinal on Friday.

Was it the officiating?

It seemed like the entire game, it seemed referee Viktor Kassai was hesitant to call anything on Ghana, while handing out yellow cards to Americans Steve Cherundolo, Carlos Bocanegra and Ricardo Clark (In his defense, Ayew and Jonathan Mensah also were carded). It seemed there was this anti-American attitude the entire tournament, with major officiating blundered against the U.S. in both the Slovenia and Algeria with goals disallowed and phantom yellow cards (Robbie Findley, for example, got a yellow against Slovenia for an intentional handball even though the ball went off his face first).

However, it just may be the officiating was dung for everybody, as evidenced Sunday's matches. England had a goal disallowed at the 38th minute in their match against Germany, a goal that was about a foot and a half in the net and would have knotted the game at 2-2. England ended losing 4-1 and being eliminated. In Sunday's other game, Argentina's Carlos Tevez got his squad's first goal against Mexico despite being clearly offsides. FIFA has refused to discuss any of the officiating blunders, which has helped make the calls for instant replay that much louder.

Maybe it was just blunders by the U.S. squad itself.

In every game they played except for the Algeria game, they fell behind early, and had to scramble to catch up (In fact, they advanced to the knockout stage despite only leading for three minutes the entire tournament). They almost pulled it off against Ghana, but they just couldn't make the comeback again.

Either way, if they had pulled off yet another miracle comeback, while it would have been the stuff of legends, a team like Uruguay likely would have snuffed them out eventually.

The good news, though, is this tournament again shows the U.S. team is on the rise, and could pose an even bigger threat in 2014 in Brazil.

Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley likely will be back, as should Charlie Davies, who missed this World Cup after being seriously injured in a car accident in October 2009. Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey may or may not be back, though goalkeeper Tim Howard likely may retire by then. Plus, the future of coach Bob Bradley is not certain, as nobody has discussed a contract extension just yet.

Either way, it should be interesting, and definitely should help the growth of soccer in this country.

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