The United States' dreams of hoisting the World Cup trophy for the first time in the country's history came to an abrupt end Saturday when the Americans lost 2-1 to Ghana, a team ranked lower than them in the Fifa world standings, and a team that sent the U.S. packing four years ago by the same score.
When Michael Bradley got loose late in the second half and couldn't convert, I said to myself there was no way America could pull it out. His chance was simply too golden and his effort was a bit too rushed. The sequence itself was indicative of how the United States' World Cup went - a ton of great chances wasted by players who were either unlucky or un-skilled.
Those chances notwithstanding, the biggest amount of blame should be shouldered by coach Bob Bradley (even though the first Ghana goal showcased super-keeper Tim Howard's fault more than anyone else on the field). His insistence on staying in the 4-4-2 formation was ultimately what did the U.S. in. Flash back to the match against Slovenia to see how successful the Americans were in a 4-5-1 during the second half, and you need no more argument. The decision to sit Maurice Edu in favor of Ricardo Clark coupled with the under-use of Benny Feilhaber didn't make things any better, either.
Even with all of those things said, the most alarming problem the United States faced was acting as though they had won the entire tournament after that incredible Landon Donovan goal against Algeria. In a rare moment of intelligence, Alexi Lalas described that instance as more of a moment than a goal. He was right. It was up to the Americans to take the win and advancement in stride, rather than shed tears over advancing...out of group play. The fact that the squad was unable to bounce back efficiently was a direct result of the manager. He should have leveled his players' heads out. He should have added perspective in the locker room. And most importantly, he should have led a charge that forced his players to act as though they have been there before.
He didn't do any of that, and now it may be an idea to look elsewhere when it comes to Brazil in 2014. The Americans should have gone further than they did here, and the readiness to accept mediocrity as success is more troublesome than anything. This team got the country interested in the sport again, if only for a minute or two. But this team also succumbed to a lack of talent, and, ironically enough for a team that came back so many times, a lack of heart in the end (we're looking at you, Jozy Altidore).
Where does this leave us? That's hard to say. Getting further into the knockout stages needs to become common practice rather than a barely-obtainable goal. And hopefully within the next four years, someone tells Mr. Bradley that. That is, if he's still around, of course.
In the meantime, this gives us an opportunity to show the video of one of my favorite moments in sports history...
...it gets better every time.