SALVADOR, Brazil -- Four years ago, the U.S. made it to the second round of a World Cup before having its tournament end in a 2-1 loss in overtime.
The same thing happened Tuesday in Brazil when Belgium eliminated the U.S., in overtime, by the same score. The go-ahead goal was even scored in the same minute in both games.
"Eerie," defender Matt Besler said.
Also somewhat deflating. Because while surviving a difficult group draw makes this World Cup somewhat more successful than the one four years ago, U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said it's time for the U.S. to get beyond the fourth game.
"It's obviously disappointing not to get a little further here," he said. "It's no longer the case where we're happy just to be here in the second round. We want to advance. The players want to advance. They know they're capable of it.
"This is always the swing game, where we are now, for the U.S. Getting to the round of 16, if we don't do that we're very, very disappointed. We get beyond here, then it's generally viewed as very successful."
But the U.S. has gotten beyond here just once since 1930. And after going 1-2-1 in Brazil, it's been 84 years since they have posted a winning record in a World Cup.
Besler, however, said he sees progress and insists the team has not plateaued.
"This team took a giant step this World Cup," he said, "the way that we played, the teams that we played. Again, we fell short. The end goal is never to just get out of our group. We really want to make a deep run in the tournament. We're close.
"But again this is two World Cups in a row where we make it to this exact same place."
HOWARD ON THE JOB
Tim Howard's 16 saves against Belgium were the most ever recorded in a World Cup game. However, Howard, who also set U.S. records for most caps and most starts by a goalkeeper in a World Cup, found it difficult to celebrate the history after the loss that will send his team home.
"It's heartbreaking. I don't think we could have given any more," he said. "What a great game of football. We left it all out there. It's heartache; it hurts."
But of his performance he added: "That's my job. That's what I signed up to do. Hats off to Belgium, they are a top-quality side and they were fantastic. But we gave a valiant effort."
After losing his starting job in central defense during training camp, Omar Gonzalez earned his way back into the U.S. lineup and was solid in starts against Germany and Belgium.
Yet what most impressed him about Tuesday's game was how his teammates fought to the end.
"The energy is all about the passion for the game. It is something that is ingrained in the American spirit: we will never give up; we will never stop fighting," he said. "I really hope that the fans across the world saw that today -- that we never stop fighting.
"We can be proud and we can be sad. Our journey ends tonight."
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