It's hard to believe that it has been twelve years since the Mexico game in Jeonju, but here the U.S. are again with another Round of 16 matchup. (Yeah, yeah, I know - but I got to my couch an hour before kickoff four years ago after traveling for over 24 hours from Johannesburg. I remember being awake, but I honestly have no memory of the Ghana game, so I'm pretending it didn't happen).
It's safe to say that the United States has solidified itself in the middle class of national teams. We legitimately float between the teens and the low 20s. Right on the edge of the Round of 16 is probably a fair picture of where we belong.
For reasons I've discussed elsewhere, we're not likely to drop from where we are. The better question is whether or not we can climb higher? I'm not sure any given World Cup knockout game can be taken as a referendum on the state of U.S. soccer. To be honest, Mexico were the better side in Jeonju in 2002, but we were clinical in front of goal. Likewise, we outplayed Germany a week later in Ulsan, but lost. Individual games are a bad metric.
A better metric would be consistently beating better teams.
Since returning from our 40 year World Cup exile, here is the U.S. record against teams from Europe:
1990 Czechoslavakia - 1-5 Loss
1990 Italy - 0-1 Loss
1990 Austria - 1-2 Loss
1994 Switzerland - 1-1 Tie
1994 Romania - 0-1 Loss
1998 Germany - 0-2 Loss
1998 Yugoslavia - 0-1 Loss
2002 Portugal - 3-2 Win
2002 Poland - 1-3 Loss
2002 Germany - 0-1 Loss
2006 Czech Republic 0-3 Loss
2006 Italy - 1-1 Tie
2010 England - 1-1 Tie
2010 Slovenia - 2-2 Tie
2014 Portugal - 2-2 Tie
2014 Germany - 0-1 Loss
10 Losses, 5 Ties, only 1 Win.
We've scored 12 goals and shipped 29. Yes, that's a -17 goal differential in 16 games.
We've played and not won 8 games against European teams since we beat Portugal. 0-4-4 is a bad record no matter how you slice it. If the United States wants to talk about being a seeded team or be taken as anything more than a trap game by their opponents, we can start by beating Belgium. Not on penalties, not after extra time, but just going out and winning the game. In the long run, history records the scoreline. More goals for the U.S. than for Belgium is what we're looking for.
In the long run it doesn't matter that Landon Donovan stayed home or Jozy Altidore and Vincent Kompany got hurt. The history above is scorelines. There's no asterisks or footnotes talking about Torsten Frings, Koman Coulibaly, or Daniele De Rossi. There are only scorelines and totals. Zero wins in 8 games, one in 16.
If we want to own the future, we need to begin now. No excuses, just wins. Belgium awaits.