By Simon Evans
Saturday's 2-1 defeat to Ghana will have dampened some of the new found enthusiasm for the game in the United States but it was hardly a shock and it illustrated the limitations of coach Bob Bradley's squad.
The U.S. showed, throughout the tournament, that they are a team full of heart and with a truly impressive determination.
But they also showed that they lack the key ingredients needed to be a genuine contender for a place in the last four -- their work rate is not matched by creativity and their graft lacks the compliment of finesse.
It remains to be seen whether the U.S. Soccer Federation decides to stick with Bradley, who did an admirable job in extracting the maximum possible out of a squad of modest talents.
The only question mark over Bradley's work with this team over the past four years is how he found it so impossible to get the defense to stop conceding damaging early goals.
Six out of 10 times in qualification, the U.S. went behind but still finished top in CONCACAF.
In South Africa they have conceded the two fastest goals in the tournament -- against England and Ghana -- and they trailed 2-0 to Slovenia.
Given the age of the U.S. defense it will be a very different back four at Brazil in 2014.
Whether it is Bradley or another coach who has the job of beginning the next four year cycle, there is clearly a need for some young talent to emerge in all positions and lift the team to the next level.
Some of that required quality is close at hand -- midfielder Stuart Holden made just one fleeting substitute appearance in the tournament but his flair is exactly what is required.
Striker Charlie Davies, a real find during qualification, was sadly absent after suffering multiple injuries in a car crash in October and the U.S. missed his pace and eye for goal.
Davies and Holden are both 24 and so should be hitting their peak at the next World Cup in Brazil while the interesting midfielder Jose Torres, who had just 45 minutes of play here, is two years younger.
Landon Donovan will still only be 32 when the tournament in Brazil begins but by then the U.S. will have hoped to have found, from somewhere, another player or two like him -- capable of scoring regularly at this level and providing the moments of unexpected ingenuity that make the difference.
To unearth that talent, clubs and scouts may well need to increasingly look outside of the traditional college sources and seek out players in the lower divisions and players from some of the soccer-mad ethnic communities.
Torres, a Texan-Mexican and Jozy Altidore, the son of Haitian immigrants, are perhaps clues to where the U.S. might start to find players with greater natural flair.
There are of course, young players already in Major League Soccer who could emerge at club level and the growing stature of that competition can only help the national team find solutions.
It is hard to imagine the United States's gradual rise up the global rankings hitting reverse, but to make the next step up, they need to add speed, technique and flair to the solidity they showed in this tournament.
(Editing by Michael Holden)