Millions of fans of Team USA were left heartbroken after the United States fell to Belgium on Tuesday in the World Cup "knockout" round. Millions.

Soccer fandom reached record highs stateside during this year's World Cup, with TV viewership even eclipsing the numbers from last fall's World Series and last month's NBA Finals. And though the U.S. team was eliminated by that 2-1 loss to Belgium on Tuesday, it won widespread admiration with consistently gritty performances.

OK, so our squad won only one of its four games in futbol's quadrennial global spectacle in Brazil.

But that opening 2-1 comeback triumph over Ghana, which later tied mighty Germany, was impressive. So was the 2-2 draw against Portugal - a seesaw affair that saw the U.S. team rally from behind before giving up a deflating last-minute goal that robbed it of victory.

And though our side lost to the German powerhouse by a mere 1-0 margin in the final game of the group round, it still advanced to that knockout round of 16.

Among the traditional soccer powers that didn't make it that far: defending World Cup champion Spain and Italy.

As for the mistaken notion that futbol isn't a rough game, two U.S. players (ex-Furman star Clint Dempsey, who's the U.S. team captain, and Jermaine Jones) suffered broken noses in the tournament - and kept playing.

One obvious World Cup attraction for American viewers: On the soccer pitch, unlike most competitive venues, our guys are usually underdogs. While Germany and Belgium clearly had superior talent, the U.S. team pushed both to their limits. Goalkeeper Tim Howard was impressively resolute in his effort, making a World Cup record 16 saves against a relentless Belgian attack that didn't score until overtime.

Now, though, the World Cup is down to its final eight - without the U.S team. Thus, American interest in it will likely wane.

But after the lights go out in Brazil's costly and controversial new stadiums far-flung across its expansive territory, most of the rest of the world will continue to care deeply about soccer. The more we learn about that appeal, the better we can understand the rest of the world.

And if you want to learn about the world's favorite game, there are still good seats available for the Charleston Battery's match against the Charlotte Eagles at 7:30 p.m. on July 12 at Daniel Island's Blackbaud Stadium.