The U.S. Soccer team was unable to continue its late-game heroics at the World Cup in South Africa and is headed home in disappointment after losing to Ghana 2-1 in extra time Saturday.
World Cups are only played every four years and a select 32 teams only get to participate after having success in months of qualifying matches. For that reason, players - and coaches - who are fortunate enough to get to football's biggest stage know it may be their only opportunity. And it is why heartbreak is felt by team members and their fans when a team is eliminated.
After always coming up with a goal when it was needed in the group matches at this World Cup, the U.S. Soccer team was unable to get a goal to stay alive in its second-round elimination game against Ghana.
The Americans once again had yielded an early goal and trailed Ghana at the half, 1-0. But they tied the score on a Landon Donovan penalty kick in the 62nd minute. The match was still knotted at 1-all after the regulation 90 minutes. But in only the third minute of extra time, Asamoah Gyan found the net giving Ghana a 2-1 lead, and the U.S. was not able to find the equalizer for a second time.
These comments from a fan named Spencer were typical of the Americans who were at the match.
"Obviously disappointed, it is just really sad, the last goal, but you know another four years we will be back, and I am not going to stop rooting for the U.S. just because they lost, and good luck to Ghana and all of the continent of Africa," he said. "It has been a lot of fun here."
This was a U.S. soccer team many believed was the most talented ever and had so much potential after its performance at the Confederations Cup in South Africa last year when it ended then number-one Spain's long winning streak in the semifinals and nearly beat Brazil in the final. So this exit from the second round has left a bad taste for many fans.
For the first time, the United States had finished unbeaten on top of its group with one win and two draws. And the Americans showed a fighting spirit, coming from behind to tie both England and Slovenia, and scoring in the dying moments of the match to defeat Algeria to advance to the second round.
They were the presumed favorite against a Ghana team that was missing its captain Michael Essien because of an injury.
But it was not to be.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard said they "just gave themselves too much of a mountain to climb." In their four matches, he and his teammates held a lead for only about three minutes. Considering that statistic, and the fact that no forwards scored goals - only the midfielders - it surprised many the team fared as well as it did.
It is certain that some of the U.S. team members will never take part in another World Cup. As for head coach Bob Bradley, his contract runs until December, and the day after his team was eliminated he said did not know what his future holds.
But the Americans have lined up a friendly match against Brazil for August 10 at New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.