The U.S. World Cup team played four games in Brazil, a total of 390-plus minutes. There were thousands of touches and mis-touches. The ball moves and opportunities come and go. That is the game.
Over the four games the U.S. won only once and was eliminated from the 2014 World Cup. But there were two touches that, in hindsight, changed the results and were crucial to elimination.
In neither case can any one player to be held totally responsibility for the end result. No one feels worse than those players.
The first was the last touch Michael Bradley had on the ball against Portugal. The U.S. led 2-1 with time clicking down inside of a minute left to play in extra time. Bradley, with the ball out past midfield, had the ball stripped. Had he driven the ball down the field away from everyone, time would likely have run out.
Even now with Portugal in possession, three U.S. defenders dropped into the box as Cristiano Ronaldo dribbled down the right flank, marked by DaMarcus Beasley. Outside the box, Ronaldo crossed the ball into the middle of the penalty box, in front of U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard, where Silvestra Varela slipped past the defenders with a diving header to secure a 2-2 draw.
Had the U.S. won that game 2-1, the team would have earned a berth in the second round of play after only two games. That would have relieved the pressure of having to get a result in the third group game against Germany to earn that berth which they had lost just 30 seconds from the final whistle.
The Germany game would have had less importance, and being less stressful perhaps U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann could have given rest for several key players going into the knockout round. We’ll never know.
After losing 1-0 to Germany, the U.S. was outplayed by a talented Belgium team in the second round, but the score remained scoreless deep into the game, thanks to the record 16 saves made by Howard. With the clock ticking down in regulation Chris Wondolowski, who entered the game in the 73rd minute, found the ball at his foot six yards away from goal, off a Jermaine Jones header, and skyed the first-touch shot over the goal. An opportunity to steal victory from defeat was lost.
In extra time Belgium would take a 2-0 lead before teenage substitute Julian Green drew one back with his first touch of the game midway through the last 15-minute overtime period.
Two touches on the ball that made a difference. Oh, there were others that could have produced the desired results. Opportunities to score that were missed, and defensive mistakes that led to goals given up.
How quickly opportunity arrives in a soccer game, and how quickly it can be lost.