After the U.S. and Belgium ended regulation tied, 0-0, a furious finish to overtime in Salvador led to extreme disappointment for Team USA and its ardent World Cup supporters, as well as a trip to the quarterfinals for Belgium to face Argentina.
The Americans, whose offense had been somnambulant practically since the first half was electrified by the entrance, in the 105th minute, of 19-year-old Julian Green, the German-American winger who plays for Bayern Munich’s youth team that U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann wooed away from Germany.
Suddenly they attacked with vigor, with midfielder Michael Bradley acting the field general, making precise passes and creating dangerous attacks. And Green scored his first goal in the first minute of his Cup debut.
For more than an hour, however, that team was nowhere to be found, and its absence cost the Americans their first trip to the quarterfinals since 2002.
Belgium came out of the gate in the first half aggressively. Almost immediately, Belgium’s own 19-year-old phenom, Divock Origi, had a one-on-one opportunity that Tim Howard stopped with a perfect slide.
It was a scene that would be repeated many times during the match, especially in the second half.
After four minutes or so, the American side settled down somewhat and started moving forward effectively. Fabian Johnson sat down on the field with a strained hamstring in the 32nd minute and had to be replaced by DeAndre Yedlin, who for long stretches was the most effective offensive player for the U.S.
A tense first half ended without either side being able to solve the other’s defense.
Origi had other golden opportunities in the second period: in the 54th minute, when a perfect cross from Jan Vertonghen skipped through the penalty untouched, and again a minute or so later, when his header bounced off the top of the crossbar.
Even though the time of possession remained relatively even throughout the match, there were stretches during which the Belgian side was getting the ball into the penalty area seemingly at will.
The U.S. meantime was driving well into the Belgian third of the field, but stumbling—sometimes literally—at the finish, and not getting many shots on the goal.
Howard made another spectacular save on a brilliant run into the box in the 75th minute by Kevin Mirallas, who left Omar Gonzalez in his wake. The goalie managed to deflect the ball seemingly with an extended toe, using every inch of his 6’ 3” frame.
As regulation time trickled down, the Belgians resumed their assault on the American goal, but Howard was up to the challenge and kept them from scoring.
Two minutes into the extra time, however, Kevin De Bruyne closed out a frenzied sequence by hitting the ball into the corner of the net from point blank range around a sprawled Howard.
In the 105th minute Romelu Lukaku broke through again and made the score 2-0.
The air seemed to be sucked out of the stadium, and the players looked dejected.
Just before the overtime break, Klinsmann brought in Green a few seconds after the second goal, and the move seemed a concession that the two-goal margin was too much for the Americans to overcome.
Not a minute after play restarted, the phenom scored on a volley off a brilliant pass by Bradley to close the lead to one.
The goal seemed to energize the whole team. Possibly made them believe, as the American fans’ chant has it, that they could win.
Unfortunately, no matter how they pressed the Belgian defense, time trickled out without an equalizer.
It was a worthy, unexpected run for the Americans, and nobody should label this a defeat.