The U.S. Bows Out With Honor

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The fact that U.S. captain Claudio Reyna has so much international experience made his error even more glaring: The American midfielder, who had been splendid in the first two games, committed one of the worst kinds of mistakes — being caught in possession in his own third of the field. Reyna was stripped of the ball by Haminu Dramani, whose shot gave U.S. goalie Kasey Keller no chance, leaving a 1-0 deficit that the Americans could tie once but never erase. They crashed out of the World Cup, 2-1, on a disputed penalty call in injury time of the first half despite scoring their first goal in the run of play.

The Yanks seemed to have a new lease on life — particularly with Italy leading the Czech Republic in the game being played at the same time. Italy had to win in order for a U.S. victory over Ghana to send Bruce Arena's men into the next round, and it did, beating the Czech Republic 2-0.

The day before the match, both Reyna and Arena had talked about not giving up the first goal. Yet 22 minutes into the match the Americans were down 1-0 after Dramani strode in on keeper Kasey Keller, finishing crisply into the right corner. To add injury to insult, Reyna was stretchered from the field with a knee injury that later forced him out of the game.

In the hole once again, the U.S. responded. In the 43rd minute Clint Dempsey, who again played fearlessly, smashed a ball past Ghana keeper Richard Kingson off a pass from DaMarcus Beasley, whose first-half performance had been miserable until that moment.

Then disaster struck. Referee Markus Merk, considered one of the best in the world, awarded Ghana a penalty kick, harshly ruling that American defender Oguchi Onyewu had fouled Rozok Pimpong in the penalty box as the U.S. man tried to play a mis-hit clearance. Ghana captain Steven Appiah made the most of it, beating Keller to his right on the ensuing spot kick. "I think we'd all agree it wasn't a good call to have that in the 47th minute, after our team worked so hard to get back in the game," Arena said. "To be positioned to have to chase the game on that call is kind of remarkable in a game at this level."

Arena thought that the Americans had taken control of the match after initially knotting the score. Yet for the first half hour of the match, the Americans hadn't mustered much offense. Beasley, playing central midfield in place of the suspended Pablo Mastroeni, looked tentative for most of the game. And when the U.S. lost Reyna late in the half, their passing game just wasn't the same, although Arena praised the play of Ben Olsen, who came on in relief.

In the second half, Ghana had the luxury of sitting back and playing defense. With Italy leading the Czechs, a draw would be good enough. The U.S. didn't threaten much until the 65th minute, when center Brian McBride's short-post header bounced off the woodwork. Two minutes later Onyewu launched a header just over the bar. Arena brought on Eddie Johnson and Bobby Convey to boost the offense, but as a whole the Americans could not break down Ghana's back line.

Although U.S. players, not surprisingly, were bitter about the penalty kick that cost them the game, they also acknowledged that they hadn't done enough to win. "We didn't do our job either," said McBride, alluding to referee Merk's decision. McBride spent much of the contest futilely chasing long balls kicked over his head from the back line. This will likely be the big centerman's last World Cup, but if the U.S. wants to qualify for the next one, they'd better produce a top flight striker, and soon, as McBride was operating alone for much of the tournament. Still, the Americans had enough quality to go through. "Things like that happen," Arena said of the penalty. "They just happen a lot to our team."

Ghana coach Ratomir Dujkovic agreed. "They are very strong, very good, very skillful," he said of his American opponents. "Unfortunately they have to go home." Tomorrow, in fact. Next up for Ghana — Brazil. Good luck.

Once again, the U.S. team was supported by a boisterous group of U.S fans, who had gathered in the old city of Nuremberg before the match to enjoy what has been uncharacteristically warm weather. Then, around 2 p.m., Sam's Army, the U.S. soccer team's supporters, paraded down the Konigstrasse, the main street in this ancient town, flags waving and drums drumming. What a surreal site that was, given that Hitler's National Socialists had used the very same streets, for some their propaganda rallies. The history was obviously lost on the Americans, but needless to say the trooping by a group of happy American soccer fans heading to a game in a way represents the phenomenal success of the hosts. This country is giddy with happiness; its team is playing well, and, even better people are coming to Germany to have fun. That's historic.