As 4 o’clock drew near Tuesday afternoon, there seemed to be one thing on the minds of those in Cleveland, much like the rest of the country: The U.S. Men’s National Team.
Going into Tuesday night’s Round of 16 World Cup soccer match against Belgium, it was known that the U.S. was the justifiable underdog.
Despite this knowledge, nothing deterred the capacity crowd that had gathered at Buffalo Wild Wings in hopes of seeing history made.
If the USMNT had overcome Belgium to advance to the World Cup quarter finals, it would’ve been only the third team in the nation’s history to do so.
The last time the U.S. saw quarterfinal play was in 2002. Besides the quarterfinal exit 12 years ago, the USMNT’s only other successful go at the World Cup was in 1930, when it reached the semifinals.
Even with the odds thoroughly stacked against the good old U.S. of A, the local sports bar and eatery was filled with an eclectic mix with one thing in common: a sense of pride and overwhelming hopefulness in those representing the stars and stripes.
For 2011 Walker Valley graduate and former Mustang soccer player Zach Carroll, this 2014 team was the best he has seen to date.
“Bar none, this is the best team that we’ve had,” Carroll declared.
For Carroll, the man at the proverbial helm, coach Jürgen Klinsmann, had everything to do with the success of the U.S. team.
“Coach Klinsmann has really turned things around and (did) very well building this team,” Carroll stated.
Seeming as if the Fourth of July had come a handful of days early, the restaurant was host to a multitude of red, white and blue with Old Glory frequently being waved around.
“All of the people out watching this game makes it feel very patriotic,” onlooker Kayla Delane commented.
Chants of “U-S-A!, U-S-A!, U-S-A!,” filled the air throughout the evening, and the enthusiastic excitement of the crowd was palpable as the regulation time was forced into extra time.
Then, for a brief moment, the wind was removed from the boisterous crowd’s sails as Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne was able to finally find a crack in the brick wall that was Tim Howard, three minutes into extra time.
Still, the optimism and pride carried on as the U.S. battled to tie things up.
Twelve minutes later, a goal by Romelu Lukaku put the USMNT in a 2-0 hole.
The slightly stunned congregation of “futbol” fans drew quiet at the extra time halftime, realizing their hopes of World Cup greatness seemed to be coming to a close.
The enthusiasm returned quickly though, as 19-year-old Julian Green was able to keep the United States from being shut out, scoring in the 107th minute.
No tying goal was forthcoming in the final minutes, so the USMNT’s World Cup run was ended by the Belgian’s.
Despite the loss, the United States still saw history made, thanks to keeper Tim Howard.
On Tuesday Howard made history, as he had a total of 16 saves. To date, that is most saves ever recorded by a keeper in any World Cup tournament.
As of Wednesday morning, “Tim Howard” was still a trending topic on Twitter and the inspiration for a large number of new Internet “memes.”
While the odds were not in their favor, the players of the U.S. Men’s National Team represented their country with a valor that can be described as nothing less than American.
The 2014 World Cup, at least so far, can perhaps best be summed up by Lady Raiders soccer coach Andy Byrd.
“It has been a great World Cup, not just for U.S. fans, but for all soccer fans. The Round of 16 games have been phenomenal, and the sport has gained more followers. It’s a great game and a great month to be involved the game as deeply as I am,” Byrd proclaimed. “Oh, and no Belgian waffles for me — ever.”