And so it is over, just like that. For the seventh time in nine appearances, the Americans end their run short of the quarterfinals. Want to know why? Here's a hint:
Actually, that's not a hint. That is why. The US were even for just 70 of the 180 minutes of first-half soccer they played this year; they trailed for the other 110. If Algeria had more accurate attackers, it probably would have been only 30 of 180, trailing for the other 150. (Oh yes, and officially, they led for 0 minutes, right? Because the only match they won came on a goal that was scored in stoppage time.)
Worse yet, if the USMNT had proper focus at the beginning of these matches, they would have had 9 points in the group stage, not 5, winning it easily (and perhaps resting a player or two against Algeria), and they would have beaten Ghana in regular time. Instead of being 4-0-0 at this point, they went 1-2-1 and are done.
Yes, the finishing was not so good against Ghana, but the problem was more the constant struggle to catch up. In three of the four matches, the US blew a play defensively within six minutes of kickoff; in two of those, the mistake cost them a goal. Against Slovenia, the mistake came almost ten minutes later. (sigh) For good measure, the eventual winning goal by Ghana came just two minutes into extra time.
Finishing? Yes, there were goals against Algeria and Slovenia that didn't count, but let's talk about the round of 16. The US had six shots on goal: one was Donovan's PK and the rest were directly at Richard Kingson, the backup keeper for Wigan. I follow Wigan. Yes, Chris Kirkland is pretty good, but Wigan aren't, at least not last season, and Kingson has no chance of cracking that lineup. This isn't like, say, beating Tim Howard. Too few shots actually tested Kingson.
Yes, Ricardo Clark made another mistake that led to a goal, but that wasn't the problem as much as Bradley's decision to start him, which led to a first-half substitution to replace him, which meant the US had only one late-match substitution for extra time (with the usual second-half kickoff sub for Feilhaber). Would it have made a difference? Yeah. Did you see how few people were attacking the goal late in the match? Altidore did seem to be out of gas; Gomez came in for him late, but it would have been nice not to start Findley and to put in someone who can actually do something at the attacking end.
Yes, the Americans acquitted themselves very well, and there were some players who did a solid job, but ultimately this was yet another USMNT that did not play to its potential in the World Cup.
So I guess it's Gold Cup time now ... two more of those (2011 and 2013) and then we can start talking about Brazil 2014. The nice thing is that many of these players may be in good shape for the next Cup run, but they'll have to finish when they get there. The US are past the point of being able to underperform and make excuses for it: at some point, they need to get it done.