The World Cup brought most of our worlds to a halt last summer, as it does every four years, with millions of us in Southern California -- among billions around the globe -- glued to our TV sets or those at pubs, bars, restaurants and fan gatherings for a solid month. Nothing else in the game, and little beyond it, dominated our time as did the festivities in Brazil.
There were hardcore fans of all 32 teams in Southern California -- no surprise, given the diversity of our population -- so one could have spent the entire month bouncing from one locale to another to watch games with the various faithful. As always, the South Koreans and the Mexicans provided the most vibrant game-watching experiences, although the place to be was Alpine Village in Torrance, to watch the dominant Germans roll to their fourth title.
The United States (1-2-1, 15th place) was alternately impressive and disappointing, capturing a round-of-16 berth out of difficult Group G and taking mighty Belgium to overtime before falling at the start of the knockout stage, but Jurgen Klinsmann's team spent much of the tournament on its heels, struggling to possess and create while too often flailing, with a certain amount of success, at the back.
They missed Landon Donovan, a hugely controversial omission, whose value became apparent after Jozy Altidore went down during the opener, a 2-1 victory over Ghana. Michael Bradley, in the attacking midfield role that Donovan ought to have been filling, played out of position, and it tempered his impact. The best U.S. performers were holding midfielders: Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman.
The Yanks followed the Ghana victory with a 2-2 draw with Portugal, which needed a strike deep into second half stoppage to grab a point, and a 1-0 loss to Germany that wasn't nearly as close as the scoreline suggests. They were similarly dominated by Belgium in a 2-1 defeat but could have gone to the quarterfinals had Chris Wondolowski finished in front of an open net at the end of regulation.
Clint Dempsey scored two goals, including one 30 seconds into the Ghana game -- fifth-fastest in World Cup history -- and Graham Zusi assisted a pair, John Brooks came off the bench to score the winner against the Ghanaians, Julian Green tallied on his first touch of the tournament as the U.S. tried to rally from a two-goal overtime deficit against Belgium, and DaMarcus Beasley became the first American to play in four World Cups.
The U.S. roster, usually with a handful of Southern California-bred players, was short on locals. Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez, a Texan, started the last two games and fared rather well. Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando (Montclair HS/UCLA) and former Chivas USA goalkeeper Brad Guzan, a Chicagoan, were among five players who did not see time.
Mexico fared better but went no further, finishing second to Brazil in Group A and taking a lead into the final minutes of a round-of-16 showdown with the Netherlands, who tallied in the 88th and 94th minutes -- the latter on a penalty kick after a Rafa Marquez foul -- to pull out a 2-1 victory.
Costa Rica was the surprise of the tournament, winning the Group of Death (ahead of Uruguay, which advanced to the round of 16, and Italy and England, which did not) and reaching the quarterfinals before falling in a penalty-kick shootout to Holland, which then lost to Argentina on penalties in the semifinals.
Brazil, not with one of its finer teams, also made it to the final four, but their 7-1 loss to Germany was a huge embarrassment. The Germans were up by five goals after a half-hour.
Defending champion Spain lost its opener, a 5-1 disaster against Holland in a rematch of the 2010 final, and failed to get out of group play.
The Germans beat Argentina in the title game on Mario Götze's superb overtime strike, to add to titles won by West Germany in 1954, 1974 and 1990. Lionel Messi won the Golden Ball as tournament MVP but didn't make the technical committee's all-star team, which included five Germans: goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, defender Mats Hummels, midfielders Toni Kroos and Philipp Lahm, and forward Thomas Müller. Breakout star James Rodriguez, from Colombia, also made the team.