The United States may have lost to Belgium 2-1 in the World Cup's Round of 16, but they put up a terrific effort through the full 120 minutes. In second-half stoppage time, they even nearly came away with a shocking winner that would have sent them to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2002. But it was not to be — both because of a terrible miss and confusing circumstances surrounding a call that might or might not have occurred.
On the stroke of the second minute of the three added to regulation, U.S. striker Chris Wondolowski, who came on as a substitute in the 72nd minute, found himself with a terrific chance at a winner right in front of the goal. A header from midfielder Jermaine Jones found Wondo with a great deal of space at the goalmouth with Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois not in an ideal position. And then this happened:
It was an absolutely horrific miss for a player known as one of the top goalscorers in MLS. In fact, he was on the pitch just to take advantage of a chance just like this. For a second, all American fans felt intense agony. Here's a GIF to relive the pain forever and ever:
Then everyone learned that it wouldn't have counted anyway, at least according to the TV broadcast. ESPN commentator Ian Darke said that Wondolowski had been flagged for being offside. However, the replay showed that Wondo was in a legitimate position:
But maybe the linesman had it right all along? Darke later corrected himself and stated that the linesman had raised his flag for the ensuing goal kick, not offside.
In fact, FIFA's own stat sheet shows the United States was not whistled for a single offside.
Even still, some people on the scene insisted that Wondo had been called offside:
The confusion persisted well after the end of the match, with plenty of fans telling others to lay off Wondo for the miss:
Some people even said it was preferable that he missed, because having a goal wrongly disallowed would have been the most heartbreaking ending possible:
So what actually happened? It's still unclear what happened in the moment, but as noted above the official FIFA stat page shows the United States with no offsides violations in the match. This suggests that Wondolowski's shot would have counted had it gone in. I guess we'll have to live with the pain of his miss for a while.
To make matters even worse, it was not the first time Wondolowski had missed such an easy chance in a big match. In the 2011 Gold Cup vs. Panama, he had this mistake:
It got extra painful for the United States in the first 15 minutes of extra time, when Belgium scored two goals from Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku. Nineteen-year-old winger Julian Green got one back for the United States to make it a match once again, but they could not find an equalizer to stay alive in the 2014 World Cup. Belgium took the match 2-1 to move into a quarterfinal against Argentina on Saturday.
When it comes to U.S. soccer, expect a whole lot of drama. Unfortunately, it's also best to prepare for heartbreak.
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