SALVADOR, Brazil — They captured the hearts of America — from coast to coast, big towns and small, all the way to the White House.
Capturing the World Cup will have to wait.
Just like four years ago, the United States is going home after the round of 16, beaten when Belgium scored twice in extra time Tuesday and then held on for a 2-1 win.
“Thirty-one teams get their heart broken,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “It has to end sometime. It ended a little bit early for us.”
Playing the finest game of his career, Howard stopped a dozen shots to keep the Americans even through regulation and force an additional 30 minutes. He wound up with 16 saves — the most in the World Cup since FIFA started keeping track in 2002.
Before exiting, the U.S. showed the spunk that won America’s attention. The Belgians built a two-goal lead when Kevin De Bruyne scored in the 93rd minute and Romelu Lukaku in the 105th.
But then Julian Green, at 19 the third-youngest player in the tournament, stuck out his right foot to volley in Michael Bradley’s pass over the defense in the 107th, two minutes after entering.
“I was sure that we would make the second goal and we would go to the penalty shootout,” Green said.
The Americans nearly did. In the 114th, Clint Dempsey peeled away on a 30-yard free kick by Bradley, who passed ahead to Chris Wondolowski. He fed Dempsey, and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois bolted off his line to block the 6-yard shot.