When Romelu Lukaku scored Belgium's second goal, the United States were dead. Not 'this game is probably over' dead, but well and truly dead. There's no coming back from getting dominated by a clearly superior team for over 100 minutes, just barely holding out while doing very little attacking of your own, then conceding twice. The United States had been eliminated from the World Cup and Lukaku had eliminated them.
But they weren't dead yet, because the Americans had a strange, unpredictable extra time period of madness in them that no one could have seen coming. With that madness, they won over the mostly neutral crowd in Salvador, and even though they didn't win the match, they probably won over a few new supporters at home too.
Man of the Match
Man of the Match
The turn of events couldn't have been more unpredictable. At the time of Lukaku's goal, Jurgen Klinsmann was out of real, sensible options to change the game, so he went to his Hail Mary option and brought on Julian Green.
Green, a 19-year-old Bayern Munich II winger, was likely brought to the World Cup for a learning experience. Klinsmann is counting on him being the team's star player in Russia, when he's 23 and hopefully an established pro while Clint Dempsey is almost certainly at home and Jozy Altidore is doing whatever in the world Jozy Altidore might be doing. He wasn't actually supposed to play, and he wouldn't have ever played if things were going according to plan for the USMNT, but a 2-0 deficit with 15 minutes of extra time to play is not in anyone's plans, so on he came.
And then he scored. He'd been on the pitch in a World Cup for two damn minutes and he did exactly what people who had never seen him play but assumed he was supposed to do expected him to be able to do. He made a great run into the box, he got a step on everyone, he was quick enough to get on the end of a pass by Michael Bradley and he poked it into the back of the net. The United States, much to the shock of everyone, including their own fans, had life. And 13 minutes to get a goal.
What transpired from there was somehow even more bizarre than Green scoring with his first career World Cup touch. Suddenly, the Belgian team that dominated the previous 107 minutes, forcing Tim Howard into a tournament-record 16 saves -- the previous record was 13 -- started to fall apart. They let the United States, previously inept in every aspect of the game, keep possession and get dangerous balls into the penalty area. The Americans were dominant, it made no sense, and it was glorious.
Sadly, they didn't score, because Belgium goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is an amazing human and real-life Stretch Armstrong. The World Cup is now over for the United States.
It sucks a lot, but we have those 15 minutes. For 15 minutes, a team that had no business being alive in the tournament at all played at a level no one thought they had in them and nearly pulled off one of the best comebacks in recent World Cup history. Don't say that it doesn't matter because they failed to finish the job -- that level of performance and a game that entertaining absolutely do matter, they're something to be proud of and we shouldn't forget anytime soon.
The USMNT came back from the dead and made everyone hope. It was as beautiful as it was bizarre, and hopefully they won over a few million new fans. They deserve all of them.