A memorable campaign ended in the round of 16 as it had four years ago, and the grades show a wide range of performances.
Tim Howard (A-). Two tough goals at the near post and the whiff on Nani’s shot that set up the spectacular left-handed save on Eder’s follow-up aside, Howard excelled. His game against Belgium has to be one of the top five in U.S. Soccer history and with a long-term deal in place at Everton don’t be surprised if he takes a real shot at the 2018 tournament.
Fabian Johnson (A-). During the warmup games, he alleviated a lot of concerns about a problem spot. His touch, work rate and positioning were consistently good and there’s little doubt had he not tweaked his hamstring against Belgium the game would have been more balanced. He impressed teammates with his workrate, commitment and team spirit every day in training. The search for Steve Cherundolo’s replacement couldn’t have turned out much better.
Geoff Cameron (C). He didn’t deserve all the abuse piled on him for the second Portuguese goal; he couldn’t keep up with a sub in the 95th minute of a game played in jungle conditions and was beaten by a perfect cross. It happens. A terrible scuff gave Portugal the chance for its first goal and forced the U.S. into chase mode. As holding mid against Belgium, he didn’t do badly defensively but missed a few opportunities to cut out passes and wasn’t effective on the ball.
Matt Besler (B). By overpowering him to set up the first Belgian goal, Romelu Lukaku exposed perhaps Besler’s only shortcomings: strength and bulk. He’s got just about everything else. He was excellent against Ghana, and as the USA battled back against Portugal he kept the back line in sync with the front six.
DaMarcus Beasley (B). The Beas was often overmatched by the European teams, but his spirit, energy, experience and tenacity limited the damage. The USA needed attacking impetus from him against Belgium and he managed to get forward a few times despite a crushing defensive workload. Had his setup touch and crossing been sharper there would have been more attempts at goal. Still, he did himself and his country proud in his fourth World Cup.
Omar Gonzalez (B+). Knocked to the canvas – i.e., benched – during the warmup games, Gonzalez got up to play the last few minutes against Portugal and start the last two matches. After a shaky start in the German showdown, he played a monster game, not only dominating in the air but snuffing dangerous situations with interceptions and slide tackles. He couldn’t clear the centering ball from which Belgium scored its first goal. When recalled, he got back up to speed quickly despite not playing competitively much for several weeks.
John Brooks (A-). One of the fairy-tale stories of a dramatic World Cup, Brooks contributed some solid defense when summoned against Ghana to replace Besler on short notice and kept his cool to nail a Graham Zusi corner kick for the winner. The heroics didn’t yield any additional playing time for the USA yet may help his club career.
DeAndre Yedlin (B+). He brought energy to the right flank as a sub against Portugal and cut back a ball that yielded the second U.S. goal, then took over for Johnson at right back in the round-of-16 match and again brought a presence offensively. He didn’t hustle back on the second Belgian goal but might have been hampered by fatigue and/or cramp. He’s incredibly poised for a 21-year-old American, has good feet and can really blossom as his defensive abilities improve.
Jermaine Jones (A-). Even in a relatively quiet game, he finds a way to contribute; Jones won a duel in the air to knock down the ball that Chris Wondolowski fired over the bar in stoppage time against Belgium. He was one of the few American players who held strong against Ghana and he dominated midfield against Portugal before and after blasting a spectacular equalizer from about 25 yards. He wasn’t quite as impressive in the last two games yet still worked hard.
Kyle Beckerman (B). One can only wonder why Cameron replaced him against Belgium, as the U.S. surely missed his ability to win balls and block passing lanes and play short passes and establish tempo. With Jones playing a two-way role, Beckerman took the holding role and seldom looked outclassed against some very tough players. If there’s one veteran who has blossomed since Klinsmann took over, it is Beckerman, who raised his game from MLS All-Star to solid international.
Michael Bradley (C+). He looked a lot better in the warmup games than he did in the World Cup, which could be due to the competition but also could indicate a minor injury cropped up. He should have done more to control the midfield against Ghana and took heat for losing a ball that Portugal turned into an equalizer, though a lot of other things went wrong on that play. Contributed to some good sequences against Germany but also lost too many balls. The Belgium game was better and the chip for Julian Green’s goal truly elegant.
Alejandro Bedoya (C). Tailed off after starting the tournament well against Ghana. He worked hard defensively to moderate effect without recovering the offensive guile he’d shown before the tournament.
Graham Zusi (C).
Earned assists with a corner kick in the Ghana game and centering pass Clint Dempsey re-directed into the Portuguese net. Overall, passing and combination play were inconsistent and he
lasted only the first half against Germany. He battled willingly defensively but suffered from his positioning and decision-making.
Brad Davis (D). Couldn’t handle the assignment against Germany and didn’t get off the bench in the finale. He hit a few dead balls but seldom found the time and space to cross during the run of play.
Clint Dempsey (B-). Scored twice but obviously struggled without consistent support from the flanks and because of Bradley’s demanding workload. Soldiered on after a wayward shin swing broke and bloodied his nose and nearly stunned Belgium with a late equalizer that was saved.
Julian Green (B+). Scored with his first touch that looked like a mis-hit and in his 15 minutes of game looked deserving of many more.
Jozy Altidore (I). Departed midway through the first half against Ghana and never got back into the picture. He said this week he suffered a grade 2 hamstring tear.
Aron Johannsson (C-). Didn’t dazzle off the bench when Altidore when departed and though he gave an honest effort that was the end of his involvement.
Chris Wondolowski (D). Agonizing
miss on a half-volley that would have won the Belgian game will haunt him for a long time. Nice touch set up Dempsey for shot that was saved.
Jurgen Klinsmann (B). Elected not to select a direct replacement for Altidore and as a result attack sputtered much of the time. Goals for Brooks and Green off the bench were spectacular, and how different the tournament might have been if Gonzalez were deployed in the back line against Portugal. Yedlin justified his selection though there’s much needed improvement while defending. The players bonded well and endured a long preparation camp and all the pressures of a World Cup as pros should. Klinsmann led and the players followed.