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Commentary: U.S. had their opportunities but couldn’t capitalize

John Harkes said near the end of the United States-Ghana World Cup match that the U.S. Men’s National Team could be proud as the clock ticked down to an impending 2-1 loss.

Proud, really?

The time for feeling good about just making it past the group stage is over.

There was a golden opportunity to reach the semifinals for the first time since the first World Cup in 1930.

How often do powerhouse nations like Italy and France fall on their sword before the knockout round?

Or elite squads like Germany, Argentina, Brazil, Netherlands, England and Spain all find themselves nowhere near Team USA’s section of the bracket?

Look at the teams that the U.S. drew into their part of the knockout phase: Ghana, Uruguay, South Korea.

Not exactly world beaters, right?

Sure, Uruguay has two World Cup titles.

Those were in 1930 and 1950.

Sure, Ghana’s senior team was littered with players who won the U-20 World Cup, but they were missing their best player in injured midfielder Michael Essien.

And South Korea hasn’t made it past the second round in any World Cup they haven’t hosted — falling 2-1 to Uruguay prior to the U.S. game.

So what went wrong?

Bob Bradley made smart and wise tactical decisions with his substitutions over the course of the tournament.

Then, he decided to start Ricardo Clark instead of defensive midfielder Maurice Edu.

Guess who had the defensive lapse that allowed Kevin-Prince Boateng to give Ghana a 1-0 lead in the fifth minute?

Speaking of the early goal, how many times did American supporters have to witness the team playing from behind?

And that’s another reason why this year’s team wasn’t quite ready to climb another rung on the world stage.

The back four needs to improve.

Sure, Clark’s a midfielder, but some quicker defenders might have covered on the game-winner early in extra time that put Team USA behind the eight-ball for a second time in the round of 16 clash.

Then there’s the lack of a true striker.

Jozy Altidore is young. He’s big and strong. He’s great at what he does — a target up front who can hold and help distribute as the play builds in the attacking third.

Charlie Davies’ horrific car crash left a void in link-up play with midfield wizard Landon Donovan.

So Robbie Findley took over Davies’ role in this World Cup as the speed demon.

Findley, Altidore and the sparingly used Herculez Gomez and Edson Buddle provided zero goals.

Not since the 2002 second-round victory over Mexico has a U.S. forward scored, compliments of Donovan acting as a forward during that quarterfinal run.

But, hey, maybe 2014 in Brazil will produce a similar scenario for the national team to advance far.

Otherwise, the Yanks are further behind the rest of the world than anyone would like to admit.

Jason Dill, sports reporter, can be reached at 745-7017.