After a tournament filled with dramatic comebacks, the U.S. couldn't muster that second goal that would have either won the match or sent it to penalties in extra time. Alas, the U.S. didn't get it done. While the U.S. had achieved its stated goal -- to get out of the group -- the loss to Ghana without a doubt should leave U.S. fans unsatisfied, as the U.S. had a real shot at making a run to the semifinals.
Overall this was a tournament that affirmed what U.S. soccer fans had known -- the USA is a nation to be taken seriously in world football. But it also demonstrated where the U.S. must improve in order to reach the next level. Under Bradley the U.S. fully adopted a resilient, never-say-die attitude, but the basic fact is that in and of itself was never going to be enough to make a deep run in the World Cup. The U.S. was going to have to show something that they have so often failed to show -- consistency. Instead, once again the U.S. failed to put together a solid 90-minute performance.
The U.S. showed once again against Ghana that it is an incredibly resilient team, as the second half performance left Ghana rattled and left the U.S. as looking like the likely winners. But after conceding in the extra time, the U.S. just looked exhausted and out of ideas. They had already spent most of regulation time chasing the game, and having to chase it in extra time was just too much to ask. If the U.S. was going to win this game, it needed to do so in the second half when it was on top. Hats should go off to Ghana. They put the U.S. under constant pressure, created turnovers, defended strongly and looked bright going forward.
But some criticism should rightly be directed at Bob Bradley. Once again the U.S. started miserably. The U.S. not only gave up an early first half goal, but were totally outplayed by Ghana in the first half. That is not just down to not playing well, it is also do to Bradley once again getting the starting lineup terribly wrong.
One would think that Bradley would actually start a game with the lineup that had put forth the most inspired performances in the tournament -- this would include Maurice Edu and Benny Feilhaber who were part of the comeback against Slovenia and the win over Algeria. But no, Bradley decided on playing Ricardo Clark, who is not nearly as good in possession as Maurice Edu and has shown some poor positional sence. Robbie Findley in his game-and-a-half against England and Slovenia had shown flashes of pace, but also demonstrated that he lacked the skill, technique and poise to really be a factor.
The result was disastrous. Ricardo Clark was at fault for the Ghana goal and was not far away from committing a red card-worthy challenge shortly after. Bradley, to his credit recognized the danger and put on Edu 30 minutes in. Overall in the first half, the U.S. could not possess the ball and were overrun in the middle of the field. The addition of Edu and at halftime Benny Feilhaber completely changed the game, as suddenly the U.S. had players that were confident on the ball.
The second half the U.S. dominated play and created some very good chances. Dempsey was everywhere and had his best game of the World Cup and was the best player on the field. His move to create the penalty was class, but was active not just offensively but worked his butt off defensively. Unfortunately for the U.S., Landon Donovan had his worst game of the tournament. Donovan's touch often alluded him and went MIA for long stretches. He looked exhausted at the end and simply wasn't able to carry the team on his shoulders the way he had so often this World Cup cycle.
While Altidore missed some chances and failed to score in the tournament, his importance to the U.S. attack became totally apparent in overtime, as his absence on the field deprived the U.S. of a powerful target striker and allowed the Ghanaian defense to focus on stopping Dempsey.
In the end however, the major weakness of this U.S. team was its centerbacks. In the Confederations Cup last year, centerbacks Oguchi Oneywu and Jay Demerit were phenomenal. Yet a knee injury to Gooch and a freak eye injury to Demerit, had left these players either rusty or a bit out of form. On the first goal, Demerit looked slow as he failed to close down Kevin Prince Boateng. And on the second goal, Bocanegra and Demerit were both beaten for pace and strength on what should have been a routine clearance.
The U.S. team can hold their heads up high, as they had a good tournament. They won the group, got the country energized, and demonstrated signs that it is an emerging power in world football. However, ultimately there could have been more, much more, and U.S. fans should be left wanting more.