SAO PAULO (AP) — Turns out Jurgen Klinsmann was right: The United States isn't ready to win the World Cup.
The Americans were eliminated in the round of 16 for the second straight tournament. They've been ranked 13th or 14th every month since September, which means their exit was pretty much at the stage it's expected to be.
"Clearly it gives you the message you have a lot of work still ahead of you," the U.S. coach said Wednesday, a day after the 2-1 loss to Belgium in extra time.
From Wall Street to the White House to the West Coast, Americans watched their national team on television in record numbers. While buoyed by the increase in attention, players are desperate to join the world's elite and far from attaining that level.
Klinsmann was a World Cup champion as a player with West Germany in 1990 and coach of the German team that reached the 2006 semifinals. Having moved to California in 1998 with his American wife, he is seen as bringing the perspective of soccer's elite to a nation that remains a new world in the sport.
His message to players is they don't do enough. They don't play twice a week, like Champions League stars. They don't face condemnation from their community after losses and poor performances.
"It makes them feel accountable, not just walk away with a bad performance and nothing happens," he said. "If you have a bad performance, then people should approach you and tell you that, so make sure that next game is not bad anymore and that you step it up."
President Barack Obama spoke to captain Clint Dempsey and goalkeeper Tim Howard on Wednesday to congratulate the team on its performance. Obama "commended them not only for their work on the field, but for carrying themselves in a way that made the country proud," the White House said in a statement.
Late Wednesday at the airport, Dempsey, forward Jozy Altidore and defender DaMarcus Beasley were cheered and stopped for autographs and photos before they boarded an American Airlines flight to Miami.
The Americans' final match, which kicked off at 4 p.m. EDT on a weekday, was seen by 21.6 million on ESPN and Univision, impressively close to the record 24.7 million set for a Sunday evening game against Portugal earlier in the tournament. An average of 1.6 million watched the loss to Belgium on digital streams.