President Obama told two members of the U.S. World Cup team that they made the country proud during a phone call Wednesday.
Obama spoke with goalkeeper Tim Howard and team captain Clint Dempsey the day after the U.S. team was eliminated by Belgium.
"You guys did us proud," Obama said in a video released by the White House. "To see the way you guys captured the hearts and the imaginations of the whole country is unbelievable."
The president also invited the team to the White House.
"I know it's disappointing," Obama said about the 2-1 loss to Belgium in extra time. "But what you guys accomplished is really, really significant."
Tournament on way to U.S.?
U.S. support for the World Cup team stretched far beyond the Oval Office, and that has gotten the attention of FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke, who told the Brazilian newspaper Globo that the U.S. may soon be in line to host the tournament again.
"What we see in the United States is staggering. The audience is unprecedented, more than the NBA," Valcke said. "The country has the largest level of youth soccer in the world, 20 million young people playing. There is a commitment from FIFA to work with U.S. Soccer and I think after 2022, they have an interest in hosting the 2026 World Cup.''
U.S. Soccer President and FIFA executive committee member Sunil Gulati has previously said the U.S. would consider bidding for the 2026 tournament, but only if bidding rules change. The U.S., which staged the most successful World Cup in history in 1994, lost out to Qatar for the 2022 tournament. The voting process in that case is under investigation amid charges of corruption and bribes.
World Cup tops NBA playoffs, World Series
More than 21.5 million people tuned in to watch Belgium-U.S. game, more than watched the final game of the NBA playoffs or last fall's World Series.
The Nielsen company said 16.5 million people watched the game on ESPN, with 5.1 million more seeing it on the Spanish-language Univision network. In addition, nearly 1.7 million people watched an online stream of the event, Nielsen said.
The record U.S. television audience for soccer is the 24.7 million who saw the United States play Portugal on June 24, which tied the 2010 World Cup final between Spain and the Netherlands.
The true audience of Tuesday's game was actually far greater because Nielsen does not measure viewership in bars, offices or other public places.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.