Soccer  > World Cup  > United States unable to catch up this time
June 28, 2010, 03:37 PM
By Michael Lewis

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa - Eventually, playing from behind cost the United States.

Whether in qualifying, or in the World Cup finals, overcoming an early deficit was going to be too much, and Ghana proved the axiom true on Saturday by prevailing 2-1 in extra time and sending the Americans home.

Overcoming deficits defined the Americans. In six of their last seven World Cup qualifying matches, they gave up the first goal. It won four of those and lost the other two. But, the trait was repeated in South Africa, where it had to rally in three of four games, twice earning draws with England and Slovenia.

"Obviously, we are disappointed," said Landon Donovan, whose 62nd-minute penalty equalized the game at 1-1. "The way we went out was frustrating because we played a pretty good game and made a couple of mistakes and got punished for it.

"It's a tough lesson to learn when you don't get a chance to redeem yourself. I guess the warning signs were there, getting scored on early and it came back to bite us finally."

Ghana, the lone African team remaining in the competition, will play Uruguay in the quarterfinals at Soccer City Stadium in Johannesburg on Friday. The United Statees, which was eliminated by the Black Stars for the second consecutive World Cup by the same score, return home disappointed once again.

After the game, Donovan sat on the bench shirtless.

"The finality of it is brutal," he said. "You realize how much you've put into it, not only for the last four years, but your whole life. There's no guarantee there's another opportunity at that."

Any elimination from the World Cup is difficult, but this one is even more so because the United States felt it had a chance to reach the semifinals with no perennial power in its path.

"Certainly there's an opportunity missed," goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "We should have won the game. Certainly at least take it to penalty kicks, but it wasn't to be."

If manager Bob Bradley could point to anything as the missing ingredient, it may have been wisdom.

"For the four games, we were only ahead for [three] minutes," he said. "The one side is just the maturity, the experience of knowing sometimes early in the game how to manage the game."

Still, this has to be the country's third most successful World Cup since the competition began 80 years ago, having reached the semifinals in 1930 and the quarterfinals in 2002. The Americans won their group for the first time - which included England.

The brightest spot for the United States was the emergence of Donovan as a legitimate world-class player. He led the team with three goals - increasing his U.S. career-leading five in three World Cup appearances -- and set up another. Donovan will be best remembered for the goal that he created and scored in extra time of the 1-0 triumph over Algeria that boosted the Americans into the Group C lead and into the Round of 16.

"I'm proud of how I've played," Donovan said.

He will return to the Los Angeles Galaxy, rejoining his coach from the last two World Cups, Bruce Arena, and David Beckham.

"Landon had an excellent tournament, plain and simple," Bradley said. "We talked over and over that that was his third World Cup and it reflected the disappointment of the last one.

"From the start of the cycle, there were players that were part of previous World Cup teams that needed to step up and Landon had responded really well to those challenges. He has matured as a person, on the field, off the field. It was important to our team. He did himself proud with his efforts and we are all behind him."

As for Bradley's future, nothing has been settled. His contract runs through the end of the year.

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