Chin Up, America: Why You Should Be Happy After World Cup Heartbreak

Amber Silvani, of Southgate, Mich., holds up a USA banner as United States fans react while watching before the 2014 World Cup soccer match between the United States and Belgium at a public viewing party, in Detroit, Tuesday, July 1, 2014.

Yes, this is 'Merica, where second place is just the first loser. And yes, the hangover of Tuesday's heartbreaking World Cup elimination by Belgium still stings nearly as bad the morning after.
But keep your chin up, USA. As rough as Tuesday was, following an inspiring and improbable World Cup run, there are some big, undeniable reasons to be excited for the future of U.S. soccer.

Put your shades on — the future is bright

John Brooks

United States' John Brooks celebrates scoring his side's second goal during the group G World Cup soccer match between Ghana and the United States at the Arena das Dunas in Natal, Brazil, Monday, June 16, 2014.
Precocious youngsters John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin and Julian Green were three bright spots for the USMNT over the past two weeks. All three are extremely young, yet picked up invaluable experience in Brazil and portend well for what's to come.
Brooks, 21, came off the bench against Ghana to head in the game-winning goal off a corner on June 16. The play, and Green's beautifully stunned reaction (just look at the photo above), will go down in U.S. soccer lore. Without that goal the U.S. likely ties Ghana, doesn't make it out of Group G, and gains far less momentum among casual fans. The crucial score also made Brooks the first player in USMNT history to score a World Cup goal off the bench.
Brazil Soccer WCup Belgium US

United States' DeAndre Yedlin, left, challenges Belgium's Eden Hazard during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Belgium and the USA at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil, Tuesday, July 1, 2014.
Yedlin is a 20-year-old right back for the Seattle Sounders who's been playing professionally for less than two years. After coach Jurgen Klinsmann inserted him lateagainst Portugal, he changed the tenor of that game with his speed and catalyzed Clint Dempsey's goal that would have won the game if not for an incredible last-second assist by Cristiano Ronaldo. Yedlin was then forced into action against Belgium on Tuesday after an injury to Fabian Johnson, but performed admirably by showing no fear and leveraging his trademark speed.
And then we come to Green, just 19 and the youngest of them all. He was the most controversial member of Klinsmann's 23-man final roster, being named to the team just two months after committing his international future to the U.S., where his father is from, over Germany, where his mother is from. He plays for powerhouse Bayern Munich's second team and is a legitimate hot prospect. Still, many questioned whether he deserved to go to Brazil, especially with American soccer hero Landon Donovan left off the squad.
Brazil Soccer WCup Belgium US

United States' Julian Green, center, celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the World Cup round of 16 soccer match between Belgium and the USA at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil, Tuesday, July 1, 2014.
Green didn't see the pitch in the USA's first two matches, then was inserted midway through extra time against Belgium in a last-ditch effort from Klinsmann to inject his team with some offensive life.
Boy, did Green deliver.
One minute after coming in, on his first touch of the game — nay, his first touch of the World Cup! — Green volleyed in an incredible goal past superstar Belgian goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois. That goal made him the youngest player to score in a World Cup since an Argentine named Lionel Messi (now only the best player on the planet) back in 2006.
Let it sink in: 
Green used the very first World Cup touch of his careerto become the youngest player to score in the world's biggest sporting event
Green used the very first World Cup touch of his career to become the youngest player to score in the world's biggest sporting event since the Lionel Messi did so back when he was a teenager. That is one incredible stat.

Does it mean Green will become the next Messi? Of course not; that's not what we're implying. But that stat — along with the impressive performances put together by fellow youngsters Brooks and Yedlin — indicates the U.S. will should have a very nice, and remarkably experienced, core at least through the 2022 World Cup.

Just over the horizon, the best is yet to come

World Cup Workplace Soccer

Dalton Hayes, of Des Moines, Iowa, reacts with friends during halftime of the World Cup soccer match between the United States and Germany at a local bar, Thursday, June 26, 2014, in West Des Moines, Iowa.
You saw the anecdotal evidence: Packed bars, distracted offices, a deluge of watercooler chatter. The American populace got into this World Cup — and this USMNT — more than any before it.
The USA-Portugal match on June 22 obliterated the 2013 World Series' average TV audience by 10 million viewers. The USA-Germany match on June 26 drew more online viewers than the 2014 Super Bowl. Sure, that stat comes with some caveats, but it's significant any way you slice it. Heck, even New York Times media critic David Carr got swept up in World Cup fever.

Plenty of those bandwagon fans will fade into the background, but here's where it all matters: While Brooks, Yedlin and Green represent the next wave of U.S. soccer, there were millions of kids across the U.S. watched Tim Howard become an American hero and imagined themselves in his shoes.
Youth football enrollment is down amid the NFL's concussion crisis. Expect many of those kids to turn to fútbol — and not just the orange slices, everyone-gets-a-trophy-set, but truly athletic kids with their sights set on professional futures and World Cup glory. As exciting as Julian Green's future may be, it's the generation after his that will represent the true leap in American soccer.

The rising quality of Major League Soccer, the USA's domestic pro league, is the cherry on top. If MLS can successfully leverage 2014's World Cup momentum — through shrewd marketing, quality facilities and entertaining play — soccer-obsessed American youths will have yet another desirable goal on which to set their sights. It's imperative MLS execs makes sure the league's upward trajectory continues.
The U.S. has now reached the knockout stage in back-to-back World Cups for the first time ever. After surviving arguably 2014's toughest group, making the round of 16 in Brazil is a laudable accomplishment.
It won't be long, however, until reaching the knockout stage becomes the USA's soccer expectation, not a feat to marvel over. And one day — probably not one day soon, but eventually — the USMNT will a World Cup.
Whenever that happens — whether we're around to see it, or it's our grandkids who celebrate in the streets — don't be surprised if people look back on 2014 as a key signpost on the road to eternal glory.

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