The U.S. ran into a better team yesterday. Belgium are better than the USMNT. This is not necessarily the Americans’ fault; Belgium has produced a remarkable generation of talent that has most countries envious. Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Vincent Kompany, etc. etc. These guys are stars, among the best at what they do in the world.
But we fought. We made it difficult for them. We dragged a much more talented team to extra time. Shot after shot was parried away by Tim Howard. Fabian Johnson went down, and DeAndre Yedlin was right there to perform admirably in his stead. And when the facade broke, and Belgium scored twice, the U.S. responded and made it a fight until the final whistle. They have nothing to be ashamed of.
Here’s the part where people will try to put things in perspective. “Was this year’s team better than 2010?” I’m inclined to say yes; they reached the same stage against largely more difficult opposition. “Are they moving in the right direction?” Again, I believe they are. Klinsmann is under contract through 2018, and he has brought to the team a number of young dual-nationals. Julian Green, perhaps the most controversial member of the 23-man squad, scored a brilliant goal to give the U.S. hope against Belgium. He’s 19. John Brooks, whose header won the match against Ghana, is 20. Aron Johannsson and Mix Diskerud saw limited time in Brazil, but they will be 27 and presumably in the primes of their careers by the time Russia rolls around.
So while today is melancholy, the future is bright. The USMNT is in good hands under the leadership of Jurgen Klinsmann. The game is growing, if slower than many would like. MLS is improving. Down the line, those last two factors will produce a USMNT that doesn’t find itself overmatched, by Belgium or anyone else. We’re not there yet, but that’s okay.