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Missed opportunities end U.S. dreams

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Ives Galarcep

Ives Galarcep is a 14-year veteran of the American soccer beat. He created and operates the popular American soccer blog, Soccer By Ives, which was voted Best American Soccer Blog by US Soccer in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Ives was also voted Best Football Writer by SoccerLens in 2010. 
 

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RUSTENBURG, South Africa

Dig enough holes for yourself and eventually you will dig a grave.

The U.S. men’s national team learned that cruel lesson on Saturday, when it fell behind for the third and fourth times this World Cup, This time, the comebacks ran out. The United States came back after surrendering an early goal in regulation, but an early overtime goal doomed it to a World Cup exit just when a deep tournament run seemed like a possibility.

USA vs Ghana

USA VS. GHANA

After topping their World Cup group over England, the USA takes on Ghana for a spot in the quarterfinals.

Once again, the Americans surrendered control of the match early, and once again they were forced to chase the game. Once again they showed heart in battling back, but they tempted fate once too often and were punished with a one-way ticket home.

The reality is that, while a run to the semifinals might have been possible with a bit of luck and some improved play, determination alone wasn’t going to be enough on Saturday. Not against a Ghana team that pushed the Americans and took its chances well on a night when the United States couldn’t convert any of its own chances in the run of play.

The Americans had the heart and fighting spirit, which helped it fight back so many times this World Cup, but ultimately they didn’t have maturity or composure to avoid the same mistakes that plagued them throughout the tournament.

Even Bob Bradley, the coach who had made so many good moves throughout the tournament, fell short on Saturday with his two lineup changes both flopping. Ricardo Clark gave up the turnover on Ghana’s opening goal and Robbie Findley wasted one of the best chances of the day, his only chance before being replaced at halftime.

The U.S. loss wasn’t about two players playing poorly. It was about a team that just didn’t appear to have the same energy and effectiveness it showed three days ago against Algeria, or a week earlier against Slovenia.

Sat., Jun. 26
Uruguay 2-1 South Korea | Recap
USA 1-2 (aet) Ghana | Recap
Sun., Jun. 27
Germany 4-1 England | Recap
Argentina 3-1 Mexico | Recap
Mon., Jun. 28
Netherlands 2-1 Slovakia | Recap
Brazil 3-0 Chile | Recap
Tue., Jun. 29
Paraguay 0-0 (5-3) Japan | Recap
Spain 1-0 Portugal | Recap

Don’t be fooled. For all the excitement drawn by the United States’ many comebacks, those battles surely took a physical and emotional toll on a young team that had just two days to recover from its victory against Algeria. The short turnaround time seems like a hollow excuse considering Ghana had the same short rest, but Ghana didn’t endure the roller-coaster ride in group play that the Americans did.

The Americans have only themselves to blame for that. It was they who kept gift-wrapping early goals as if they only knew how to play from behind. It was they who made the job harder against opponents they should have been able to beat more easily.

Ghana didn’t see things that way. The memories of its victory against the United States in the 2006 were too fresh, and you could see the swagger from the beginning of a team that new it could win. While the Americans got off to yet another middling start, Ghana was aggressive, confident and looked ready to play from the beginning.

The same couldn’t be said for the United States, which didn’t match Ghana’s energy early. The U.S. team wasn’t playing terrible early on, but Clark looked lost from the start, and never did settle down even after Kevin Prince Boateng’s goal and his own yellow card. Bob Bradley had no choice but to remove him before he picked up a second yellow.

The offense did show signs of life in the second half, with Benny Feilhaber injecting some creativity, and with the aforementioned attackers making a serious push for the equalizer, which came in the 62nd minute on a Donovan penalty kick.

Yes, things could have been different if just one of the United States’ chances had beaten Ghanaian goalkeeper Richard Kingson, who had a standout performance, but the reality is the team’s forwards failed to score all tournament, and had make-able chances on Saturday. A fatigued Altidore had his least productive match of the World Cup on Saturday, while Findley defined the term useless speed. You couldn’t have blamed Bob Bradley if he didn’t watch Asamoah Gyan with a little bit of envy, wishing his team had such a reliable striker capable of creating a magic moment, a game-winning moment.

Unfortunately for Bradley, his team couldn’t muster another game-winning moment. Landon Donovan’s last-gasp winner against Algeria must have seemed miles away as the final seconds ticked away in the United States‘ World Cup. Donovan had no encore and neither did his teammates. All they had on Saturday was another loss to Ghana, a missed opportunity to make a deep World Cup run and the cruel reality that they had only themselves to blame for their World Cup being over.

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