ANDREW VORCE - Tuesday, June 29, 2010
United States men's national team talismanic midfielder Landon Donovan says the US team learned some hard lessons in South Africa throughout their journey to the Round of 16.
Initial speculation from both the US and Group C favorites England was that either team would be able to coast through their opening three games and into the second round of the tournament.
England, Algeria, Slovenia, and Yanks, or E.A.S.Y as The Sun dubbed Group C, turned out to be anything but. The US ended up taking first place thanks to Donovan's heroics against Slovenia and Algeria and finished 1-0-2 in their first three outings.
The recurring problem for the Americans, however, was their nasty habit of giving up early goals. Steven Gerrard of England scored in the fourth minute in their first match while Slovenia's Valter Birsa scored 13 minutes into their second match.
In both games the US were forced to expel vast amounts of energy to fight back and earn draws in the opening two games, and finally were able to dispel their early goal demons and keep Algeria at bay to claim their first win of the tournament.
The stage was set for the US to take on Ghana, but once again the US conceded early as Kevin Prince Boateng exposed a mistake at the back five minutes in to the Round of 16 match.
Donovan again drug the US back as he converted a 62 minute penalty, but more defensive mistakes allowed Ghana through and Asamoah Gyan won the game in extra time to see off the Americans.
"The way we went out was frustrating," Donovan told Yanks Abroad. "We played a pretty good game, we just made a couple of mistakes and got punished for it. It's a tough lesson to learn when you don't get the chance to redeem yourself.
"The warning signs were there, getting scored on early, and it came back to bite us in the butt."
The early goals came from direct mistakes that led straight to goal scoring chances. Donovan believes that his squad didn't 'start out flat', but that those mistakes cost them the tournament.
"We didn't come out flat, we didn't come out tentative, we just made mistakes" Donovan acknowledged. "I thought we played well, but when you make mistakes at this level you get punished for them and it's hard to come back that."
The Los Angeles Galaxy man believes that having to chase games didn't tire out the squad, but rather it merely forced a break in the momentum and slowed their fight back process. Game after game that fighting mentality took center stage, and in the Round of 16 the US simply ran out of time.
"We were the fitter team, we had more energy throughout the second half and the overtime," Donovan said. "But when you're consistently behind in games, it's very difficult to get back in. We had some good chances actually, I thought we were playing better and I thought if anyone was going to score at that point it was going to be us. Jozy's chance almost got it."
In the end, however, Ghana would have the last laugh and become the only African team to move into the next round.
The closing scenes of the US odyssey into the Round of 16 in the 2010 World Cup were that of Donovan alone on the team bench, in solemn contemplation of what had just transpired.
"The finality of it is brutal," he concluded. "You realize how much you've put into this. Not only for the last four years, but for your life. There's no guarantee that there's going to be another opportunity like this."