CARSON, Calif. –The United States National Team was valiant in defeat on Tuesday as their World Cup dream ended at the hands of a 2-1 extra time defeat to Belgium.
As close as the Americans came to a victory over the tournament dark horses, LA Galaxy forward Landon Donovan asserted that the USMNT defeat was a “missed opportunity” for the nation and its soccer program.
“The thought of having a game Saturday, a day after the fourth of July against [Leo] Messi and Argentina with what was already a swelling audience would have been incredible. I think that we’re all disappointed about what happened yesterday,” Donovan told reporters after LA Galaxy training on Wednesday ahead of Friday’s game against the Portland Timbers. “The most disappointing is that it didn’t seem like we really gave it a real effort from a tactical standpoint. I thought the guys did everything that they could and that was asked of them, but I don’t think that we were set up to succeed yesterday. That was tough to watch.”
At the start of the match against Belgium, the United States was set up with Clint Dempsey as the lone striker against the possession-oriented Red Devils. This move was not a departure of tactics for Klinsmann who opted for a single forward up top (be it Jozy Altidore, Aron Johannsson or Dempsey) for most of the tournament. With Altidore out with a hamstring injury, however, Dempsey was often isolated as the Americans struggled to sustain possession and push forward.
In Brazil, the Americans managed just five goals in four matches, which was a departure from the high-flying side that led CONCACAF World Cup qualifying with 15 goals. Despite reiterating repeatedly that hindsight is 20/20 when looking back at the performance, Donovan stated that the Americans inability to attack in Brazil hurt them as their World Cup campaign wore on.
“They were set-up in a way which is opposite for the way that they’ve been for the last couple of years which is opening up teams, passing and attacking,” Donovan said. “The team has been successful that way and why they decided to switch that in the World Cup none of us will know. From a playing standpoint, I think that the guys will be disappointed about the way things went.”
Donovan later added, “My feeling as a player is that if I was in locker room before the Germany game and the Belgium game and the coach walked in and said that we’re playing a 4-5-1 and Clint [Dempsey] is up top by himself then I would have been disappointed. I would have said ‘let’s go for it. I want to have a chance to go for it and win.’”
Donovan concedes that teams like Germany and Argentina are ahead of the U.S. in terms of talent, the Galaxy striker believes that the Americans are on their way.
But the job is hardly done yet.
“It’s clear that you can see that teams like Germany and Belgium are more talented. It’s the million dollar question is what we need to do to get there. The problem is that we live in a world of what have you done for me lately, and [soccer] takes time,” said Donovan. “The majority of players who were on the field for Belgium have been playing four to six days a week since they were four or five years old. A majority of guys on our team really got serious about soccer when they were 14 or 16.
“That gap can’t be made up. Now we’re starting to see that as we develop here in L.A. and other teams in MLS. That process takes time.”