The USA Men’s National Team run, with two former Maryland Terrapins on it, came to an end after a loss to Belgium in extra time in the round of sixteen. After defeating Ghana 2-1 in the opening group stage game, coach Jurgen Klinsmann moved two former Terrapins into the starting eleven. Graham Zusi, who scored the game winning goal against North Carolina in the 2008 National Championship, and Omar Gonzalez, who anchored the Terrapins defense in the 2005 National Championship season, started against Portugal, Germany, and Belgium in the final three games of the World Cup run. Both had great moments in Brazil, and each will be remembered for playing a large role in some critical moments.
Every goal scored in the World Cup is an important goal, but Zusi assisted in two of the bigger goals scored for the USMT. John Brooks game winner against Ghana came off a corner delivered from Zusi, and against Portugal when he set up Clint Dempsey for the game tying goal after a rough start to the game left the USA down 1-0 in the sixth minute. Graham never found the back of the net, but his biggest skill is more in the distribution area and he showcased that ability in Brazil.
Zusi struggled against Germany and Belgium after solid performances against Portugal and Ghana, but part of this could be because of the loss of Jozy Altidore. The lone striker up top for team USA pulled his hamstring in the first twenty minutes against Ghana and didn’t play a minute the rest of the tournament. Following the injury, the US struggled with creating chances consistently, holding the ball, and attacking teams out of midfield build ups. Zusi is a great two way midfielder and the defensive part of his game was showcased against high attacking teams like Germany and Belgium. However with the loss of Altidore, Zusi lost the ability to show off his attacking ability and his ability to set up teammates.
While Team USA accomplished a lot by making it out of a tough group to advance to the round of sixteen, it was an even bigger accomplishment considering that they ranked in the bottom half of possession maintained. The USA had to play a lot more defensive then people were used to and that people expected, but the aforementioned loss of Altidore and lack of back up strikers was the cause of this problem. Along with the USA playing two of the more talented teams in the tournament, Germany and Belgium, who have world class players at every position on the pitch.
With how much defense Team USA played, Omar Gonzalez had to play a critical role in keeping the team alive. After picking up an early yellow card against Germany, Omar was still able to play despite the game mainly happening in the USA third of the pitch. The lone goal scored by Germany came off an unfortunate rebound that fell to Thomas Müller’s feet for a shot on target. A large part of the USA staying competitive in the game came from the ability of Omar Gonzalez to use his size and IQ to prevent Germany for possibly knocking the USA out of the tournament with a large victory.
The game against Belgium will always be remembered for the unbelievable performance by Tim Howard, but the entire back line for the USMT played a great game in making sure that rebounds were taken care of and preventing Belgium’s athletes from gaining a lot of space in the attacking third. There were miscues throughout the game, but more often then not Omar played a role in cleaning them up. Howard’s performance will always be remembered, but with the USA conceding as much possession as they did, its impressive that they were able to get to extra time scoreless.
Omar Gonzalez and Graham Zusi are two of the top players in the MLS. Each has won an MLS Cup, and Omar is the highest paid defensive player in the league. Team USA may not have advanced as far as some would like, they many not have won as much as people would like, but they showed the world that American soccer is improving. The MLS is often criticized for being a second or third tier league in the world, but Zusi and Gonzalez helped show that there is talent in the MLS that can compete internationally.
Maryland is known in the college soccer circles as having one of the top programs nationally, but having players like Zusi and Gonzalez goto the World Cup and play well shows how far ahead Maryland is in the college soccer landscape. Its been awhile since the Terrapins have won the College Cup, but they have been major players in the competition and have needed teams to play at top notch levels to knock them out of the tournament. ACC fans can talk about how Maryland means nothing and losing the Terps is meaningless, but soccer fans from Virginia, North Carolina, and Duke are happy that they will only need to try beat once Maryland once a season instead of three times a year to win a championship.