When the final whistle sounded last Saturday, all the hopes and dreams of a nation were gone. There would be no next game. There would be no more exciting last-minute goals to talk about for days. There would be no more “work meetings” at the bar at 9:30am during the week. It was all over, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. While the Ghana players were on the field thanking their God for giving them the strength to be on the winning side of the 120-minute battle, the U.S. players felt just the opposite. They looked like wounded soldiers scattered throughout the turf, most covered in blood, sweat and tears, wondering what more they could have done to give themselves and their country another win. It’s a feeling of despair, frustration, emptiness and most of all disappointment. The worst thing about losing on this stage is that you have to wait four years to get another shot.

There is no doubt that the U.S. gave it their all against Ghana, and throughout the whole tournament for that matter. They may have started off slow in most of their matches, but they showed resiliency and fight in coming back and taking each team they played to the final whistle. Effort and determination can only take you so far, though. When you get to the latter stages of the World Cup, the talent rises to the top and the teams who have the best combination of determination and skill advance. The U.S. was missing the latter, and it showed, especially in the final game against Ghana. The defense had gaping holes and the offense couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net, which are two problems you can’t have if you want to advance past the round of 16.

Not one U.S. forward scored a goal in the 2010 World Cup, which is not a good sign because that’s their job, plain and simple. It’s not surprising, though, considering a U.S. forward has not scored a goal in World Cup play since Brian McBride did it in against Mexico on June 17, 2002. Coach Bob Bradley wasn’t happy with the inability of his attackers to score, and addressed the issue after the Ghana match, “It’s especially important up front because goals decide matches. That is still the greatest challenge in the game, to have someone who can consistently score goals. It’s an area where we do need to improve. Success at one level doesn’t necessarily translate to success at another level.”

All of the teams still in contention have goal scorers who can create opportunities for themselves like Kaka, Fabiano, Suarez, Messi and Villa, to name a few. These guys can take the ball and make something out of nothing. Altidore is the closest guy the U.S. has to being that type of player. He has enormous potential and skill, but couldn’t translate his success in Europe to the World Cup. He had his chances throughout the tournament, but couldn’t capitalize. It wasn’t all Altidore, though, as none of the attackers were able to put the ball in the back of the net. But in the next four years, we need to find players we can consistently rely on to score or we’ll be in the same boat we are this year.

The status of Coach Bradley is another storyline to watch over the next few months. His contract expires Dec. 31 and judging from the comments of U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, it doesn’t look like he’ll make it much further than that. As in any sport, there are always people on both sides of the fence when discussing who is to blame for losing, the coach or the players. The coach isn’t on the field and can’t make the players execute, but it is his job to put the players on the field who can get the job done. Gulati made it very clear that he was disappointed in the fact the U.S. didn’t make it past the round of 16, but didn’t blame it on anyone in particular. The decision to keep Bradley, though, comes down to if Gulati thinks Bradley has what it takes to take the U.S. to the next level in 2014. We should know his view on the situation within the next few months.

But one of the biggest questions surrounding the U.S. men’s national soccer team is the future of Landon Donovan. He was the savior for the Americans in the 2010 World Cup, and whoever didn’t know his name before sure as hell does now. The status of his immediate soccer future could be the biggest mystery of all. We do know he will return to his current MLS club, the Los Angeles Galaxy, but his plans beyond that are up in the air. There are rumors that his excellent play in the World Cup could earn him offers from such European teams as Chelsea and Manchester City. But U.S. soccer fans need to be more worried about whether or not Donovan will be on the field in Brazil in 2014. It is likely that he will return because he will only be in his 30’s when the next World Cup rolls around, but nowadays you never know.

If nothing else, the 2010 U.S. men’s national soccer team provided the nation with many moments of excitement. They kept everyone interested and wanting more, which isn’t a very common statement when you talk about soccer. It seems like the country becomes more and more engulfed in soccer with every World Cup that passes, and this year was no different. The level of interest this year was at an all-time high. But hopefully by this time four years from now, we will be gearing up for the next round and not the next World Cup.

Submitted by Steve Giles