As we all know, the United States' World Cup hopes ended Tuesday with a 2-1 overtime loss to Belgium.
Belgium clearly dominated the game and if not for the play of goalkeeper Tim Howard this game would have ended in regulation time. Howard had a record-setting performance (16 saves) and it was clearly the greatest individual performance by a U.S. player in the history of the World Cup.
The first half was an open game, with Belgium having an advantage in possession and chances created. The Belgians nearly scored in the first minute off a chance from their 19-year-old star, Divock Origi. However, for the first time in this World Cup, the U.S. tried to aggressively push forward, and at times threatened the Belgium team. DeAndre Yedlin, who replaced the injured Fabian Johnson at the 30-minute mark, had success pushing down the right side of the field.
Belgium was posing problems all over the field. It controlled the midfield and had excellent balance in its attack with opportunities created from the right side with Dries Mertens, centrally with Kevin De Bruyne and Origi, and on the left side with Jan Vertonghen and Eden Hazard. The U.S. did an excellent job defensively, and was fortunate to go in at halftime with the game still scoreless.
The second half was a different story. Belgium overwhelmed the U.S. and created numerous chances. Howard saved shots by Origi and Mertens at the 57th and 59th minutes. At the 60-minute mark, Belgium made a change with Kevin Mirallas replacing Mertens on the right side. His pace was influential and helped to create a number of chances for the remaining 30 minutes of the half.
The U.S. clearly showed signs of fatigue and defended most of the half with nine players behind the ball. Under the onslaught of pressure, the U.S. was fortunate not to concede a goal late. Shockingly, the U.S. had an opportunity to win the game in the 92nd minute when a chance fell to Chris Wondolowski, but he missed at close range. At the end of regulation time, the game was still scoreless.
At the start of the first overtime, Belgium Coach Marc Wilmots made an excellent substitution, bringing in striker Romelu Lukaku for Origi. Lukaku's influence was immediate as he turned U.S. defender Matt Besler and helped create De Bruyne's goal in the 93rd minute. Lukaku scored Belgium's second goal, off a counter in the 105th minute, and the U.S. looked dead and done.
At this point, both teams were completely fatigued. Despite that, the U.S. demonstrated its incredible competitiveness and team spirit and fought its way back into the game when Julian Green converted a Michael Bradley pass in the 107th minute. Howard made another great save on Lukaku in the 110th minute and Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois saved Clint Dempsey's attempt in the 114th minute.
Belgium won and in reality the U.S. was completely outclassed. Belgium is a world-class team with very good players in every position and they are capable of beating Argentina in their quarterfinal game.
As the U.S. Soccer program moves forward, it is time to evaluate where we stand among the top soccer countries in the world. We continue to make progress, but that said, we are likely two World Cups away from being in position to challenge to win this competition, which only eight nations have won.
In this World Cup, the U.S. was deficient in its passing and lacked the individual talent at the attacking end of the field. The U.S. team demonstrated itself to be a very organized unit, good defensively and with outstanding goalkeeping. But taken as a whole, this is not a formula for success because teams with these skill sets are rarely in a position to win in this competition.
In Brazil the U.S. won only once in four games. Overall, I think we had a good World Cup and realize we also want more. Therefore, we will need to continue to move forward by growing our domestic league (MLS) and by creating an improved developmental system in our youth ranks. I do believe we have a great future in this sport.
Now the World Cup is down to eight teams and the quarterfinals Friday and Saturday will be very interesting and will likely produce some upsets.
Certainly, the quarterfinals match-ups are outstanding: Brazil versus Colombia, France versus Germany, Argentina versus Belgium and the Netherlands versus Costa Rica.
I see Brazil, France, Belgium and the Netherlands advancing.
—Arena is general manager and coach of the Galaxy and was the U.S. coach in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times