The USA soccer team cut its biggest star from the World Cup roster before the tournament started. Yet even without Landon Donovan, the USA had notable names like Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley, along with up-and-coming stars like John Brooks. Yet in the World Cup second round on July 1, America was fixated on one man who made soccer history in net, even if Tim Howard didn't stop every single shot Belgium bombarded him with in extra time.
Howard made extra time possible by stopping 12 shots in regulation, which is almost record setting in soccer. He ultimately stopped 16 shots over 120+ minutes -- yet a 17'th and 18'th shot went past him in extra time to give Belgium a 2-1 victory. Nevertheless, the final outcome would have been 4-0 or 5-0 in regulation without Howard in net for the Americans.
Howard had the most saves in a single game in World Cup history over the last 50 years. He likely won't have a chance to top it, since he is 35 years old. He and Donovan will be hard pressed to return in the 2018 Cup, as USA soccer now turns the page to a new era in its history.
The likes of Brooks and Julian Green will anchor that new era, as the 19-year-old Green finally gave Howard some support by scoring America's only goal. Of course, it came after Belgium finally broke through with two goals in the first period of extra time. But for long stretches in the second period, it looked like the Americans would bail Howard out and give him a chance for some final heroics on penalty kicks.
Belgium's Thibaut Courtois was a spectator in its net, at least compared to Howard. Yet when Courtois finally faced some pressure in the last minutes, he came on strong, especially on a late shot from Dempsey. It made it all the more disappointing for the U.S. that it couldn't get any real chances in the first 105 minutes, while Howard was left high and dry for his efforts.
The Belgians took the Americans out of the World Cup in extra time, just like Ghana did in 2010. But while the ending was the same, Howard was the major difference in becoming the USA's new soccer hero -- even if the hero finally fell in one devastating, overdue stretch.