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"Hello, is Jogi there? It's Jurgen. I'd like to see if he wants to go to the park to kick the ball around for a bit...about 90 minutes or so. Tell him there's no need to bring a goal. We won't be trying to score today."

When the World Cup groups were announced and the United States was placed with Ghana, Portugal and Germany, the immediate thought in trying to determine the best way out of the alleged Group of Death was for the U.S. to beat World Cup rival Ghana, earn a draw against Portugal and hope that those results were enough to get out of the group stage without needing a result against Germany.

What many—myself included—joked about at the time was that if the United States and Germany both found themselves needing a point to advance after two matches, nothing would be better than a friendly kick in the park.

Ninety minutes, no goals. If there were ever a scenario for which a conspiracy theory could be made, it would have to be this.

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"Sickening."

That's how Taylor Twellman and Ian Darke of ESPN described how the United States had three points ripped away in the fifth minute of stoppage time by Portugal and settled for a 2-2 draw in the humid desert city of Manaus on Sunday.

For 94 minutes and 45 seconds the United States outplayed, out-thought and outworked Portugal. It looked like the Americans had outscored their opponent, too.

Jurgen Klinsmann called it unfortunate. Michael Bradley said it was a disappointment that they didn't finish the job.

"That's soccer," Bradley told ESPN's Jeremy Schaap after the match. "It can be a cruel game sometimes."

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It can be easy to put too much pressure on any U.S. soccer team during international competitions, but this particular team at this particular time in the history of the sport in this country—with this particular coach at the helm of the entire program—had as much pressure as any U.S. soccer team in history.

And then came the World Cup draw. American soccer fans were convinced the team had been placed in the Group of Death, with Germany and Portugal ranked as two of the top five teams in the world and Ghana being the United States' personal World Cup executioner in each of the last two tournaments.

For the United States, the group looked like imminent death, but as the tournament has played out over the first nine days, preconceived notions about life and death in a World Cup are proving to be different from reality.

Someone go tell England that Group D wasn't the toughest. Go tell Spain Group B wasn't a more difficult lot.

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"Ronaldo plus 10." That's the common knock on the Portuguese side in major competitions, and it's part of the reason why the country that boasts the best player on the planet over the last two years has never been seen as a legitimate contender to win the 2014 World Cup.

One game in, and suddenly a loss in either of the next two matches could see Portugal fail to even make the knockout round. Cristiano Ronaldo is going to do everything in his power to make sure that does not happen, and it's up to the United States to find a way to stop him. (If you thought watching the U.S. stop Ghana was gut-wrenching, just wait for Sunday.)

In truth, Portugal is much more than just Ronaldo, but with the suspension of Pepe after a mindless headbutt on Thomas Mueller and the injuries to Fabio Coentrao and Hugo Almeida, they are much less than they should be heading into a World Cup matchup with the United States. Having said that, Ronaldo plus any 10 still has Ronaldo.

"For us it's a great start, a very difficult start against a great Ghana team and now we have to work harder to show Portugal who we are," Jurgen Klinsmann told the media after his first World Cup win as U.S. soccer manager. "This is a very dangerous game, more dangerous than before because you get that 4-0 result from Germany, now you're going to come into Manaus pretty angry.

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In the closing moments of the thrilling, heart-pumping and gut-wrenching 2-1 victory over Ghana, Ian Darke of ESPN put the performance of the United States ever-so eloquently.

"There are some heroes out there," Darke stated, "in red shirts tonight."

Indeed there were heroes, some as unlikely as one might possibly imagine.

John Brooks, installed at halftime by Jurgen Klinsmann after an injury to starting center back Matt Besler necessitated the change, scored the game-winning goal off a set-piece header in the 86th minute, helping the United States survive an impossible test put forth by Ghana, the elements and the gods of the game.

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For the diehards around the world, there is nothing better than the start of a World Cup. Four years of work, dedication, political wrangling and hastily constructed stadia are finally being put to use on the field in Brazil. Nothing matters more.

To casual fans of the game—and traditional big-event television watchers in America—the World Cup is too often something to admire from afar, tuning in when the United States plays and catching a few matches that involve power nations like Brazil, Italy or Argentina.

For the diehards who watched every minute of the first 11 World Cup matches, we witnessed what might go down as the best opening weekend in the event's storied history.

You want big stars? The first weekend had them.

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When asked about the inexperience of the U.S. men's national soccer team and how it could be the defining story of the 2014 World Cup for his side, Tim Howard tried to spin it into a positive.

"Experience is a big thing," the U.S. goalkeeper told a small group of reporters after the Turkey friendly. "Experience also has baggage. So we don't have that baggage."

Only they do. At least, some of them do. There has been so much made about the U.S. national team's lack of experience and how it will work against it in Brazil that many of us—I am as guilty as anyone on this front—have brushed aside the overwhelming experience the team does have.

Howard just collected his 100th international cap in the buildup to Brazil, making him the third player on this roster with triple-digit appearances for the national team, joining Clint Dempsey and DaMarcus Beasley in that esteemed class.

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If you've watched a U.S. men's national team soccer match over the last dozen or so years, you surely know the popular refrain coming from the loyal travelers in the stands of every game around the world. Say it with me now, folks.

I. "I."

I believe. "I believe."

I believe that we will win. "I believe that we will win. I believe that we will win."

(Insert record player screeching sound here.)

Wait a minute. No I don't. I don't believe that we will win. And neither do you.

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"Dad, why don't you wear your U.S. soccer shirt to the game this weekend," my seven-year-old soccer-playing daughter asked as I prepared to cover the United States men's national team in a warm-up match for the 2014 World Cup.

"Well, because it's unprofessional," I replied. "You aren't supposed to root for the team you are covering."

"Why not," she answered. "Don't you love America?"

It's hard in our profession to put rooting interests aside, but it's even harder to keep covering a team and rooting for it separate when that team represents America and everything you have grown up wanting U.S. soccer to be.

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When Taylor Twellman heard how many ties Bob Ley was bringing to Brazil, he laughed.

"Bob says 12 ties?" Twellman asked me while packing for Brazil to cover the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

"I’ve got everything from six bottles of bug spray, malaria pills, five suits, probably 25 shirts, 25 ties. I have absolutely no idea what to do."

Beginning with a trip to Jacksonville to call the final tune-up for the U.S. men's national team with fellow broadcaster and world traveler Ian Darke, Twellman will be on the road for 73 consecutive days calling soccer for ESPN.