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Was this the best World Cup ever? If you ask American soccer fans, it might have been.

Without question, we witnessed the most exciting group stage in recent memory, topped by some amazing late-game dramatics in each of the knockout rounds.

Brazil's undoing as the host nation in the semifinals may be the story of the entire tournament, eclipsed only by Germany's deserved culmination as the best team in the world.

The 2014 World Cup was won by the best team, with a goal in the 113th minute that was, without question, one of the best of the tournament. Andre Schurrle took on two defenders down the left flank and put a perfect cross onto the near post for late-game substitute Mario Goetze—seemingly forgotten after the group stage by Germany coach Jogi Low—who chested the ball to a pitch-perfect volley that screamed across the goal into the far netting.

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It's our dream, as writers, to chronicle history. Whenever a big event rolls around, those of us who have the privilege to cover such things get excited for what's to come. Our words, somewhere in the ether of time, space and futuristic gigabits, will accompany the events of this World Cup forever.

None of us—not one writer on the entire planet—saw this one coming. None of us had Germany putting an absolute thrashing on the host nation of Brazil to the tune of 7-1.

This is uncharted territory, not just for soccer, but for any sport. No major event ever turned into such an unforgettable sporting massacre.

Sure, with Neymar lost to injury and Thiago Silva lost to suspension, many of us thought Germany would prevail over Brazil in the World Cup semifinals, but nobody—none of us—saw this coming.

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Johnny Manziel had his photo taken in a bathroom. He had a $20 bill in his hand. It was being rolled. Now the world is coming to an end.

This is the life of any NFL celebrity. For Manziel, it seems even bigger than that.

Manziel has been a celebrity since he was a tween. The kid was a star athlete from a rich family in the heart of a country that makes celebrities out of far less. At Texas A&M, as the legend of Johnny Football grew and grew, from the trophy ceremonies to the "money" gestures to the repeated reports of impropriety, Manziel seemed to act like it was all part of a big elaborate game for him.

In life, the one who ends up with the most toys wins, and dammit if Manziel doesn't have a huge head start over everyone else.

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For decades, teams have been playing extra time in major competitions like the World Cup in preparation for—one might say in hopes of—the match ending in penalty kicks.

With Costa Rica fighting valiantly for much of regulation against the Netherlands, it looked like the last quarterfinal played in the 2014 World Cup was going to end in a surprisingly fair fight.

And yet, when the match hit the later stages of regulation and flipped into extra time, the pitch completely tilted, favoring the Dutch for most of the additional 30 minutes.

Costa Rica seemed happy to survive the 120 minutes, settling for penalties, having previously won a shootout with Greece in the round of 16.

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The United States is out of the World Cup, but that doesn't mean the tournament is over. In fact, with eight teams remaining in the biggest global sporting event on the planet, it almost feels like the real World Cup is just beginning.

Don't get me wrong, I wish the United States was still playing in Brazil, and a day after a loss to Belgium which featured an American side that was not outworked but decidedly outclassed, it hurts to think about turning on a soccer game and not seeing the red, white and blue represent our rooting interests.

We are a long way from the United States becoming a world power in the sport, but the interest shown this week proves that until we get there, more and more fans seem to be hopping on for the ride.

There is no need to hop off now that the U.S. is out.

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It hurts.

The United States is out of the World Cup in the round of 16 yet again, and it just…hurts.

My rocket-pop-clad seven-year-old cried when the final whistle blew. I'm not going to lie, I cried a little, too. The World Cup is a big deal, and losing is supposed to hurt. The more Americans that feel this way today, the better.

In some ways, this outcome hurts more than in 2010. Four years ago, the U.S. was lucky to get out of the group, and while it faced a team in Ghana that was probably more beatable on paper than this Belgian side, there was an air about the U.S. team in South Africa that felt like an ending, not a beginning.

If Jurgen Klinsmann has shown one thing during this World Cup run, it's that he has a vision for where U.S. Soccer is headed. This tournament felt like the beginning of something, and while that something will surely continue into the next cycle, that beginning is over. And that hurts to admit.

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For a goalkeeper, the World Cup knockout stage can be very simple. Stop every shot. Make every save. Win every match.

For American keeper Tim Howard, advancing past Belgium in the round of 16 starts—well, stops—with him.

Gone are the heartbreaking draws and good losses of the group stage. The World Cup is a win-or-go-home tournament now, and heading into Tuesday's matches in the round of 16, Howard may have to be perfect for the United States men's national team to stay alive.

As the result against Germany in the final game of the group stage clearly showed, even one mistake can be the difference between World Cup life and sudden death.

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In his first press conference after landing in Brazil, Jurgen Klinsmann refused to walk back his then-infamous comments about the United States having no chance to win the World Cup, saying instead that his team only needed to worry about getting out of the group.

"Then," Klinsmann said, "the sky is the limit."

Welcome to liftoff.

"It's huge," Klinsmann said to ESPN's Jeremy Schaap after the 1-0  loss to Germany on Thursday in rain-soaked Recife. "It's huge for us getting out of this group. Everybody said, 'You have no chance.' We took that chance and we move on. And now, now we really want to prove a point."

The first point Klinsmann should want his team to prove is that they can play a better brand of soccer than they did in the group stage. Through three matches, there is no question the United States deserved to get out of Group G, but doing so wasn't exactly pretty. It surely wasn't the style of play Klinsmann wants to see in the next round.

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The day before the World Cup began, I was asked a question during a radio interview about U.S. national team manager and technical director Jurgen Klinsmann.

"Is he right man for the job?"

I found the question peculiar at the time, given that we were one day from kicking off a tournament that, for Klinsmann and U.S. Soccer, has been three years in the making. Hired in August, 2011, Klinsmann has rebuilt the U.S. men's national team effectively in his image—strong, fit, technically adept…and decidedly German.

The thing is, a lot of American soccer pundits and fans have questioned Klinsmann's methods since he took the job. Did he focus too much on fitness and not enough on tactics? Did he overwork his players in training, leaving them too tired for matches? What in the hell was he thinking keeping Landon Donovan off the World Cup roster?

Any manager in any country is going to be questioned, and while I vociferously disagreed with Klinsmann's decision to leave Donovan back home in favor of less skilled and/or seasoned role players—I did write the day before the announcement that if Landon wasn't going to Brazil, neither should Jurgen—the question about him being right for the job seemed like a difficult one to answer at the start of an event this big.

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The ratings for the United States World Cup draw with Portugal were announced Monday with record-setting numbers. ESPN boasted that 18.2 million people watched the game Sunday—huge for anything on television, but astronomically so for soccer, even at an event as big as the World Cup.

ESPN's business reporter Darren Rovell noted that the rating for ESPN was higher than the average rating for a regular-season NFL game last season. Sports Media Watch added that the 18.2 million viewers were more than any game of the NBA Finals this year, including the series clincher, which traditionally gets a ratings boost for any sport. (People love trophies.)

The ESPN numbers are flat-out huge, and it speaks to the big-event nature of American sports fans.

The thing is…those numbers aren't the entire audience.