Cameron: ‘Victory was right there on the plate’

By Stephen Cameron

You want more pain, U.S. soccer fans?

The goal that never happened WOULD have counted. The Americans WOULD have defeated Belgium and moved on to face Argentina in the World Cup quarterfinals.

We all know the moment in question, right?

After a remarkable 92 minutes of almost unbelievable soccer, the game miraculously remained scoreless when a header from Jermaine Jones found U.S. reserve striker Chris Wandolowski right at the Belgian goalmouth with keeper Thibault Courtois far out of position.

The guy called “Wondo” is considered lethal around the net, and all he had to do was bunt the thing home from about 10 yards and the U.S. would have cherished a stunning 1-0 victory.

But then, all sorts of weird things happened.

First, Wondolowski inexplicably hammered the ball high, high into the crowd behind the goal.

It was a colossal, “Oh, no!” type of blunder that lives on for years.

Wondo’s miss produced a reaction from U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann that you might see when someone is struck from behind with a pipe wrench.

Millions and millions of U.S. fans here and in Brazil, who had been chanting they still believed — despite Belgium spending the better part of two hours peppering American goalie Tim Howard with rasping shots and dangerous crosses — gasped at the fluffled chance.

But wait…

TV commentator Ian Darke, who’s one of the best in the business, quickly pointed out that even if Wondo had netted, the linesman’s flag was up and thus the goal would have been erased for an offside violation.

It was a sad sort of consolation, in a way.

Yeah, poor Wondolowski screwed up a chance most youth leaguers could put away — but it wouldn’t have counted.

And so Belgium, which dominated from kickoff almost to the finish, finally breached Howard’s net twice in extra time and survived a super goal from 19-year-old wonderkind Julian Green to win 2-1.

And before we continue this autopsy, make no mistake about the Belgians as deserving winners.

We’re going to hear or read that about 25 million Americans watched this game on television, which is more than five times the entire population of Belgium.

Unfortunately, it seemed on Tuesday that most of Belgium’s 4.7 million citizens are awesome soccer players.

Beyond that, it felt like all 4.7 million were lashing shots at Howard, who put on a goalkeeping clinic that might be unmatched in World Cup history.

Ah, but back to that moment when the U.S. could have stolen the match…

Wondolowski misses, we hear that the linesman had flagged for offside, so sick as the massive American audience might have been, at least the goal — what should have been a goal — would not have counted.

Except that everyone was wrong.

The TV guys saw the flag, assumed it was for an offside play and said so — easing our misery.

Unfortunately, the truth was far, far worse.

Wondolowski was NOT offside. The goal would have counted if he’d managed to nudge it into the open net.

What Darke saw and reported on TV was the linesman raising a flag to point at the net for a goal kick — the result of a ball going out of play.

After the match, there was some confusion about that. What was the flag really about?

Sadly, FIFA’s official stat sheet told a story that made Klinsmann and millions of U.S. fans sick all over again.

On the list of statistics, under “Offsides,” the United States was credited with…


So the victory was right there on the plate in stoppage time, and now poor Chris Wondolowski will have to live with his awful miss forever.

Imagine his flight home from Brazil. You’d hope Klinsmann relaxes any ban on alcoholic beverages — and keeps Wondo away from the emergency exits.

What a bizarre departure from the 2014 World Cup.

The United States didn’t deserve to beat a much better Belgian side.

But they darn sure should have.

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