If the USA are to develop into genuine FIFA World Cup™ title contenders then their defence has got to improve, says goalkeeper Tim Howard.

Howard, who was beaten twice on Saturday by stunning strikes from Kevin-Prince Boateng and Asamoah Gyan during the last-16 defeat by Ghana, said that the best teams did not concede soft early goals like the Americans had during the tournament.

"We need to make teams work a lot harder for goals," the 31-year-old Everton star said. "Look at the best teams. Goals don't come very easy against them. They've been coming too much at the heart of things for us. At this level, when guys are inside the heart of the penalty area, you're asking for trouble. That's happening too many times."

Surrendering early goals was a curse for the Americans, who led for only two of the 390 minutes they played at the FIFA World Cup. "We put a lot of pressure ourselves when we do that," said Howard. "We just gave ourselves too much of a mountain to climb."

Look at the best teams. Goals don't come very easy against them.

Tim Howard, USA goalkeeper

USA skipper Carlos Bocanegra, who tried in vain to stop his Rennes clubmate Gyan's run on to the ball for the decisive goal, admitted that the Americans had let an historic opportunity slip from their grasp. The USA were the top-ranked team in their quarter of the bracket after winning their group but could not capitalize. "It's a little bit frustrating because we were right there and it's frustrating because we feel like Ghana is someone we can beat," said Bocanegra.

The Americans rallied to draw with England 1-1, fought back from two goals down to draw with Slovenia 2-2 and advanced to the knockout stages when Landon Donovan scored a stoppage-time goal for a 1-0 victory over Algeria. And Bocanegra said that he and his side had paid for all those efforts when it came to extra-time against the Ghanaians.

"We tried to push and push. I don't know if we just didn't have anything left because we've been pushing so much the entire tournament," the 31-year-old defender said. "We got behind the 8-ball too early too many times. At this level when you give up this many goals you're not going to go very far. Eventually our luck ran out."

Donovan said the team should be proud of its energy and attitude even after coming up short. "The finality of it was brutal," said the 28-year-old. "The reality that it's over after you put so much into it, not just these four years but your whole life, and realizing you may never get this chance again, it's very disappointing."