Yes, the United States had done what had been expected of it at the 2010 World Cup: Get out of the group stages and into the last 16.
And the games produced some memorable moments too, such as the rousing comeback against Slovenia; Maurice Edu’s controversial disallowed goal in the same game; Landon Donovan’s last gasp winner against Algeria; and Robert Green’s gift to the Americans in the England opener.
Public interest in the Bob Bradley’s boys rose and the nation’s imagination was captured for a brief time.
However, every U.S. fan knows a golden opportunity to progress deep into the tournament went sadly a begging.
Having earned themselves top spot in Group C with five points and more goals scored than England, the promising path that opened up for the U.S. as a result was closed off just as quick due to imperfect defending and a couple of questionable selections (Clark/Findley) by Bradley against Ghana.
In the end, it seems there was simply too many negatives preventing the team from exploiting a favorable bracket.
The squad depth wasn’t there, while the team showed how desperate it is for a top notch striker. Not one of the five goals was scored by a forward.
Defense was also a major concern, with no real strength in cover, while the fact that Michael Bradley had four different partners in the middle tells its own story.
And, as we said last week, there are only so many times you can stage a comeback, no matter how great your determination. Slow starts and the concession of early goals became too much of a habit, and this needs to be seriously addressed going forward.
But will it be tackled by Bradley or a new coach? Although he has done well in the main, producing a spirited team greater than the sum of its parts, it remains to be seen if U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati offers a contract extension to Bradley, or allows his current deal to run out in December.
Whoever it is will benefit from talent coming up through the ranks (such as Andy Najar of DC United, and L.A. Galaxy’s Omar Gonzalez to name just two), while quite a few of the current team is young enough to be involved in Brazil in 2014.
These include Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Robbie Findley, Stuart Holden, Jose Torres, Jozy Altidore, Jonathan Bornstein, Michael Bradley, Brad Guzan and Jonathan Spector, who will all still be under 30.
Some fringe players who didn’t make this squad, like Sacha Kljesten, Robbie Rodgers and Chad Marshall, should also be vying for places.
And there will be one or two we haven’t even heard of yet. So here’s to 2014 – the journey starts now.