A valiant effort from the United States fell just short as Belgium progressed to the FIFA World Cup quarterfinals with a 2-1 extra time victory on Tuesday.
Led by Tom Howard’s 16 saves—the most in recorded World Cup history—the U.S. held Belgium to a scoreless stalemate in regulation before Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku struck for the Red Devils in the first half of extra time.
Late-game substitute Julian Green pulled one back with a terrific volley in the 107th minute, but Belgium withstood a late surge from the Americans to advance.
Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler and midfielder Graham Zusi started the match, becoming the first two players to see action in a World Cup knockout stage contest while playing club soccer in Kansas City. Besler played the entire game and Zusi was replaced in the 72nd minute.
Besler and Zusi earned their 21st and 27th international appearances, respectively. Their first career World Cup campaign ends with each of them featuring in all four U.S. games, including seven combined starts.
Manager Jurgen Klinsmann made two changes to his starting lineup, recalling Geoff Cameron to play in midfield in place of Kyle Beckermann and swapping Brad Davis with Alejandro Bedoya out wide.
Howard was forced into immediate action, making a kick save to deny 19-year-old Divock Origi 40 seconds into the match. The moment set the tone for what would become a record-breaking performance between the posts.
Besler played a vital role in keeping Belgium off the scoreboard throughout regulation. Early on, he stepped up into the center circle to challenge De Bruyne and end what could have been a Belgium counter attack. Twice he cleared low crosses into the box from Dries Mertens and tackled De Bruyne off the ball at the top of the penalty area just before the interval.
Belgium nearly grabbed the lead after 26 minutes. Jan Vertonghen flashed a low ball across the face of goal, and veteran DaMarcus Beasley provided a crucial clearance before it could reach Marouane Fellaini at the far post.
The U.S. suffered an injury blow at the half hour mark when Fabian Johnson pulled his right hamstring. Right back DeAndre Yedlin replaced him on the backline as Belgium continued to hunt for a goal.
Though the Red Devils controlled much of the game, the U.S. threatened with rare forays forward. Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey combined at the top of the box in the 20th minute, only to see Dempsey’s curling shot saved by Thibaut Courtois. Shortly thereafter, Dempsey chested down a corner kick from Zusi and picked out Jermaine Jones, who fizzed a low shot wide of goal.
Belgium continued to dictate proceedings after the restart, but Howard's second half heroics kept the Americans’ upset hopes alive. In the final quarter hour of normal time, he produced a fine kick-save to deny his Everton club teammate Kevin Mirallas, sprawled out to block a snap shot from Eden Hazard, and pushed away a close range effort from Vincent Kompany.
In a brief respite for the U.S. defense, Zusi was involved in another sporadic attack from the Yanks, but his blast from the right side of the penalty area was blocked.
Zusi’s night ended in the 72nd minute, as Chris Wondolowski was introduced to offer an additional goal scoring threat.
Besler remained steady in defense as the game neared extra time, and his well-timed sliding challenge in the 83rd minute dispossessed Daniel Van Buyten inside the box. The full-time whistle blew with both sides at a deadlock, marking the third time since 1930 that the U.S. held its World Cup opponent scoreless after 90 minutes.
Belgium finally made the breakthrough three minutes into overtime. Substitute striker Lukaku burst down the right side and curled a low cross into the six-yard area. The pass was initially cut out but fell to the feet of De Bruyne, who avoided two challenges and struck low into the left corner.
The same duo was involved in the Red Devils’ second goal 12 minutes later. De Bruyne broke down the left side on a counter attack and slipped a through ball to Lukaku, who smashed high into the net past his Everton teammate Howard.
Just when the match seemed over, 19-year-old Julian Green gave the Americans a lifeline. Having replaced Bedoya just before the extra time intermission, Green struck an impressive volley past the diving Courtois to set up a frantic final 15 minutes. The German-American became the youngest player to feature in a World Cup match for the U.S.
Green’s goal reenergized the Yanks, who had suddenly seized control of the game. Jones nearly provided an equalizer in the 109th minute, only for his right-footed flick to glance narrowly wide of the far post.
The U.S. came agonizingly close to tying the match in the 114th minute as a beautiful set piece just outside the box put Dempsey through on goal, but Courtois blocked his shot. It was ultimately the last dangerous opportunity the Yanks could muster.