The US lost a heart-stopper to Belgium yesterday, 2-1, in the World Cup Round of 16. Belgium moves on to play Argentina in the quarterfinals; the Americans head home.
But there's a lot of victory the Americans can pull from their defeat. Not only did they make it out of the Group of the Death, the US team defeated rival Ghana, came within two seconds of topping Portugal, and hung with the high-octane Belgians for most of the knockout round match.
And then there's goaltender Tim Howard. He had the tournament of a lifetime, and his best performance came in his team's final game. Howard made 16 saves against Belgium — the most since World Cup stats began being kept in 1966. The previous record holder was Ramon Quiroga from Peru, who saved 13 shots in 1978.
It was the type of game that is immediately understood to be legendary.
"I have to say that what Tim Howard did tonight was phenomenal, outstanding and amazing," US coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "He kept us in the game. He had an absolutely amazing match and you have to give him all the plaudits."
Even the Belgians had to appreciate how good Howard played.
"He was in a state of grace," Belgium coach Marc Wilmots said.
Belgian captain Vincent Kompany added on Twitter: "Two words… TIME HOWARD #Respect"
After keeping Belgium off the board for 90 minutes, Howard was finally beaten in the 93rd minute by Kevin De Bruyne. The Belgians added a second goal at the 105th minute, and it looked like curtains for the Americans. But Howard kept his team in the game, buying time for Julian Green, who scored for the US at the 107th minute almost immediately after being subbed in.
The US missed a couple chances after Green's score yet couldn't get the equalizer. When the final whistle blew, Belgium let out a massive sigh of relief and America was crushed.
Despite losing the game, Howard was named the Man of the Match. The choice was a no-brainer. He was by far the best player on the pitch, and unless something drastic happens between now and July 13, the game he played will be the one people talk about all summer — and likely for years to come.
But in the end, the US is going home. And for Howard, that's what matters most.
"It's heartbreaking," Howard said. "I don't think we could have given any more. We left it all out there. We said to try to get a goal, and at 2-1, we put pressure on them. We got beaten by a really good team. A dream falls short, but we'll never forget this night."
Neither will anyone who watched it — in Brazil or on TV and computer screens all over the world.
For more World Cup coverage, check out SI Kids' Guide to the 2014 World Cup!
Photo: Felipe Dana/AP Photo