This GIF Shows How Tantalizingly Close the U.S. Came to Tying Belgium

Slate's soccer blog.
July 3 2014 12:53 PM

This GIF Shows How Tantalizingly Close the U.S. Came to Tying Belgium

Clint Dempsey
Belgium's goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois (R) saves a shot by US forward and captain Clint Dempsey.

Photo by FRANCISCO LEONG/AFP/Getty Images

It’s best not to dwell in the past. But two days after the U.S. lost to Belgium in the knockout round of the World Cup, I can’t help but imagine a fantastical world in which the U.S. men's national team is getting set to play Argentina on Saturday. After holding Belgium to a scoreless draw in regulation, the United States fell behind 2-0 in extra time before 19-year-old Julian Green got one back with a brilliant right-footed volley. And then, in the 114th minute, the U.S. pulled off an absolutely brilliant set piece that nearly tied the score 2-2.

This replay, shown a minute later on the ESPN broadcast, offers the best view of what was nearly the most brilliant maneuver of the 2014 World Cup.

failedsetpiece
Advertisement

First, Jermaine Jones streaks in front of Michael Bradley, helping to camouflage the Americans' true intentions. Bradley then taps a diagonal ball to the cutting Chris Wondolowski. The Belgian wall, which had been primed for a Bradley shot, busts apart as five players scatter aimlessly. As the Red Devils scramble, Clint Dempsey races to the front of the goal, and Wondolowski’s pass hits him in stride. At this point, the Belgians have been thoroughly beaten. The men in red are standing, watching, and hoping that the play breaks down, somehow.

It does. Dempsey’s first touch is heavy, perhaps because Wondolowski struck his pass with a bit too much pace. Instead of gathering it smoothly and smashing it into the net, Dempsey now races to control the ball.

There’s also one Belgian player who’s not absolutely dumbstruck. To his credit, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois comes off his line quickly. It’s a world-class move by a world-class player: Courtois is just fast enough to slide in and dispossess Dempsey before the American forward can regain possession.

If Courtois had stayed in place, Dempsey would have slotted the ball in and tied the match 2-2. Instead, the Belgians held on for a deserved victory. In the end, this play stands as a microcosm of the Americans’ performance at the 2014 World Cup. It was surprising, thrilling, and not quite good enough to beat one of the best teams in the world.

Josh Levin is Slate's executive editor.

TODAY IN SLATE

War Stories

The Right Target

Why Obama’s airstrikes against ISIS may be more effective than people expect.

The One National Holiday Republicans Hope You Forget

It’s Legal for Obama to Bomb Syria Because He Says It Is

I Stand With Emma Watson on Women’s Rights

Even though I know I’m going to get flak for it.

Should You Recline Your Seat? Two Economists Weigh In.

Doublex

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Or, why it is very, very stupid to compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice.

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

Why Is This Mother in Prison for Helping Her Daughter Get an Abortion?

Politico Wonders Why Gabby Giffords Is So “Ruthless” on Gun Control

Behold
Sept. 23 2014 4:45 PM An Up-Close Look at the U.S.–Mexico Border
  News & Politics
Foreigners
Sept. 23 2014 6:40 PM Coalition of the Presentable Don’t believe the official version. Meet America’s real allies in the fight against ISIS.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 23 2014 2:08 PM Home Depot’s Former Lead Security Engineer Had a Legacy of Sabotage
  Life
Outward
Sept. 23 2014 1:57 PM Would a Second Sarkozy Presidency End Marriage Equality in France?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 23 2014 2:32 PM Politico Asks: Why Is Gabby Giffords So “Ruthless” on Gun Control?
  Slate Plus
Political Gabfest
Sept. 23 2014 3:04 PM Chicago Gabfest How to get your tickets before anyone else.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 8:38 PM “No One in This World” Is One of Kutiman’s Best, Most Impressive Songs
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 23 2014 5:36 PM This Climate Change Poem Moved World Leaders to Tears Today
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 23 2014 11:37 PM How to Stop Ebola Could survivors safely care for the infected?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 23 2014 7:27 PM You’re Fired, Roger Goodell If the commissioner gets the ax, the NFL would still need a better justice system. What would that look like?