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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.

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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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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.