U.S. ousted in tough loss, but Lexington fans enjoyed the tournament run

ngray@herald-leader.comJuly 1, 2014 

They watched the United States bow out of the World Cup on Tuesday, but about 150 American fans at a watch party at Fifth Third Bank Pavilion were upbeat after an intense match that had a lot of twists and turns.

The party, organized by the Downtown Lexington Corp., featured a food truck, and beer and wine was available for purchase by a catering company. A large screen streamed an online feed of the game, which was a little blurry and balky. The screen's troubles were caused by an online local hacker, according to Signsmith Technologies LLC., the company that provided the screen. Half of the screen went completely black in the first half. The company tried to switch laptops, but it didn't fix the problem.

The screen eventually got fixed by halftime, but some unhappy fans abandoned the pavilion for nearby bars.

"It's frustrating to look at," Lexington native Jake Kissel said before leaving for West Sixth Brewery. "I wanna see the game, not this."

Those who did stay to see the game were treated to an exhilarating second half.

Belgium pushed the pace throughout the match, bombarding U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard with shot after shot on goal — he made 16 saves in all. Howard saved 12 in regulation, keeping the game scoreless as awed fans cheered his efforts.

"Tim Howard is playing out of his mind," Lexington native J.B. Blanton said, his hands propped up on his head.

The game went into extra time after both teams failed to score in the first 90 minutes. In front of the crowd, Johnetta Combs was exuberant throughout the game.

"I'm worried I'm going to break my chair," Combs said before extra time. "I have no doubt in my mind that we are going to do this. We just need one."

Her faith was tested. Belgium scored twice in the first 17 minutes of extra time, and Combs' head was buried in her hands.

But when 19-year-old substitute Julian Green scored a goal with 13 minutes left in extra time, the pavilion crowd, despondent after Belgium's second goal, was re-energized.

"I told you!" Combs said. "I still believe that we can win!"

Blanton was in mid-sentence talking about how disappointed he was in the game when Green scored.

"That's the tough thing about soccer," Blanton said. "You never know."

As the final whistle blew, fans were not satisfied, but they also were not upset. It was only the fourth time since 1930 that the U.S. had ever made it to this point in the World Cup.

"I don't think we should have made it to this point (in the tournament)," Lexington native Greg Williams said. "But we (lost) respectably."

"People see that we can be competitive," Blanton said after the game. "It's not the American team that we were used to."

Nick Gray: (859) 231-1330. Twitter: @ngray_63.

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