The US national team was struggling to deal with the end of their fairytale run at the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ after their 2-1 extra-time defeat by Ghana in Rustenburg on Saturday night.
After giving up early goals to start the match and extra time, there was definitely a sense of shock on the faces of the American players. It was, after all, a contest that had a familiar look to the US's group contests – but with a much different outcome. "It was a bridge too far really. We can't just keep producing magical moments," said goalkeeper Tim Howard after the loss. He was referring to his side's hard-won reputation as comeback kings in South Africa after the Stars and Stripes had recovered from a goal down to hold England 1-1, two goals down to hold Slovenia 2-2 and then scored a last-gasp winner against Algeria to send them through from Group C.
Against Ghana, who opened the scoring in the fifth minute through Kevin Prince Boateng, it seemed that the US were headed in the same direction after Landon Donovan's penalty brought the match level in the second half. But an Asamoah Gyan sucker-punch in the 93rd minute put the American team on the wrong side of another dramatic moment. "We can't keep starting games like that," said captain Carlos Bocanegra to FIFA.com about the run of slow starts. Along with the match at Royal Bafokeng Stadium, the US were behind to England and Slovenia after four and 13 minutes respectively. "We pushed and pushed to make comebacks and today we tried our luck and it just ran out. I think we kept going, today just wasn't our day."
Midfield stalwart Michael Bradley admitted that he thought the second-round match was headed the way of the previous contests. "We gave up the early goal again, and again, we fought really hard to get back into it," he said. "When we made it 1-1, I thought we were really pushing the game, and I thought we were going to go on and win. We had a few good chances and weren't able to score, and then to give away a goal like that right at the beginning of extra time was tough."
The second goal was a particular sore point for the US defence. "I don't even know what that long ball was – a clearance maybe," said Bocanegra referring to Andre Ayew's long spinning ball to Gyan. "But it was just right down the middle, and it was too easy for them to score. It's frustrating. We gave up too many goals this tournament to advance." Howard was also clearly upset with the manner of the winning goal. "It's frustrating at this level to give up a goal like that," he said. "Guys running through the heart of the defence and scoring that quickly. If you look at the best teams, they get scored on, but you have to work to do it. We did not do that."
But both Bocanegra and his central defensive partner Jay DeMerit said they were pleased to have limited the Black Stars' chances and felt unlucky to be going home. "The only two real chances they had, they scored on," said DeMerit. "As a defence, your job is to limit the other team's chances. I thought we did that, it's just that they took advantage of them. It was disappointing, of course, because if we prevent those, then they don't even have a chance to win the game, which is what you want. But that's the way the ball bounces sometimes, and we have to live with it."