Life After 'Death': U.S. Soccer Now Starts All Over Again
Omar Gonzalez reacts after the United States was defeated by Germany 1-0 but qualified for the Round of 16 during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil at Arena Pernambuco on June 26, 2014 in Recife, Brazil.
Getting out of the “Group of Death” is very Thursday. So was the United States World Cup team’s 1-0 loss to Germany. The accomplishments of a win over Ghana and a draw with Portugal are now passé.
The United States’ second-round match against Belgium Tuesday in Salvador, Brazil, is like starting the World Cup all over again.
“Everything’s fresh again,” U.S. striker Clint Dempsey said. “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the group stages. It’s what you’re going to do on that day.
“You want to keep staying. You want to keep fighting for the opportunity to be in this tournament as long as possible to go as far as you can go.”
“There is no managing the next game; it’s just win,” U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard added. “So we push ourselves even further … Now there are no ties.”
Belgium came into the World Cup as a dark horse favorite of some. The Red Devils have only once advanced past the second round at a World Cup (1986) but went through European qualifying for this one undefeated.
They won all three games in the first round in Brazil, but all by one-goal margins, two of them mere 1-0 wins.
Belgium is well-known at the World Cup, and not least of all to Howard, who played with three of its stars this past season at Everton in England: Kevin Mirallas, Romelo Lukaku and Maroune Fellaini.
“They’re a top team,” Howard said. “Everyone around Europe will tell you how good they are. They’ve got so many good players, young, fast, good on the ball. I actually think because of that we match up well with them.”
The U.S. team is still recovering from making a little of its own history, advancing past the group stage in consecutive World Cups for the first time.
It did so largely without the services of its lead striker, Jozy Altidore, who had to leave the opener against Ghana after only 23 minutes with a strained left hamstring and hasn’t returned.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said he is “optimistic” to get the 6-foot-1, 175-pound, 24-year-old back for the match against Belgium.
Two other injuries, broken noses to Dempsey and midfielder Jermaine Jones, will not affect their availability.
Belgium, conversely, has a longer casualty list. Reserve defender Anthony Vanden Borre fractured his shin in the victory over South Korea and is finished for the World Cup. Reserve midfielder Steven Defour was ejected against South Korea and will miss the game against the United States.
Others injured are center back Vincent Kompany (groin) and left back Thomas Vermaelen (hamstring).
The United States is trying to get to the quarterfinals for only third time in its history and first since 2002.
A win Tuesday would earn Team USA a final eight matchup against the winner between Argentina and Switzerland, which play earlier Tuesday.
Many feel the United States has already proven its worth by achieving the goal of escaping the group stage of the World Cup. The U.S. team thinks it can prove even more.
“Jurgen has been nothing but positive,” U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez said. “He’s telling us, he’s telling our families to change our flights to July 14-15 because we’re going to be here to the very end. So that just speaks volumes of how positive he is, how much he believes in this team.”
And maybe there is even a hint of revenge to its critics.
“Before this tournament started, no one was talking that America can come to the next round,” midfielder Jermaine Jones said. “It was always Portugal and Germany. We showed people that we have a good team and we have a good atmosphere in the group.
“Now for the next game, it’s the same tough game like Germany. They have a lot of experienced players, good players from different good clubs. It’s a knockout game and we have to see it like final.”
Brian Trusdell is a writer from New Jersey. He has covered four FIFA World Cups and six Olympic Games during his more than 30 years as a sportswriter, mostly with the Associated Press and Bloomberg News. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.