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The 2014 World Cup

It All Comes Down to the United States vs. Germany

Viewership and fan engagement are at all-time highs in the U.S.—a great sign for the health of the game. But if the United States men's soccer team fails to advance, the goodwill could quickly evaporate.
BY John Godfrey Posted
June 26, 2014
10:44 AM
RECIFE, Brazil—Ninety-four minutes and thirty-plus seconds into Sunday's match against Portugal, the United States men's soccer team was on the verge of establishing itself as a true soccer nation.

More than 25 millions Americans were watching as the team held onto a 2-1 lead that, if maintained, would have guaranteed passage to the knockout rounds of the 2014 World Cup. The Yanks had stared down the Group of Death, outplayed the No. 4 team in the world, and were getting ready to celebrate.

And then, of course, Cristiano Ronaldo broke free on the right wing, sent in a wicked cross, and Silvestre Varela tied the match at two. Game over. Parties postponed. And all eyes turned toward today's game vs. Germany.

"It’s massive," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "It’s deciding who’s winning the group—the Group of Death. It’s deciding who moves on onto the knockout stage. We can’t wait to get this thing started.”

If the U.S. defeats the No. 2 team in the world, it advances. And if the U.S. gets a draw, it advances.

In either scenario, millions of new fans will be further drawn into a sport that has been a second-class citizen for decades. More fans leads to better TV ratings which leads to increased revenue which leads to bigger investment in the training and facilities which leads to maybe, perhaps, finally, elevating the game of soccer to the top tier of American sports.

Of course, if the Yanks lose to Germany and things go the wrong way in the simultaneous Ghana-Portugal match, a tremendous opportunity will have been lost. The graphic below, created by ASN user Chris Hickman, shows which teams would advance based on the most likely scorelines.

And yes, the United States Soccer Federation is keenly aware that advancing to the knockout rounds equals success, while failure to do so would be disastrous.

"We have a lot of people talking, saying 'Wow!' and getting excited," U.S.S.F president Sunil Gulati said yesterday. "Now, to keep those perceptions moving in the right direction, you've got to get results."

Again, that means advancing. If the U.S. can do that, and extend this national party for another game or two—another week or so—the party continues and the trajectory shifts.

"The ratings are fantastic," Gulati continued. "I've said, 'If the U.S. does well here we're going to set ratings records.' And we have. I think that'll contine if we do well.

"What else is going on in the States in terms of Fan Fests, in terms of stadiums that are opening to put on screens, in terms of watercooler talk, in terms of bars that aren't traditionally showing soccer—in the past you had to pay the bartender to put soccer on....

"It's frankly everything that those of us who have been following the game for a long time dream of. Hopefully we can keep that level of intensity where it is. We're on a positive trend line in this sport. I don't there's any denying that. What this does is jump us up to a much higher trend line that's positive."

The U.S. has had success in World Cups before: The team advanced to the quarterfinals in the 2002 tournament, losing to—gulp!—Germany in a game that turned on a missed hand ball call that might have given the Yanks a win.

But clearly, 2014 World Cup is different. The Americans were drawn into the Group of Death and played attractive, offensive-minded soccer. They did not bunker and hope for the best, as they might have in the past. It makes a huge difference.

"It's no longer the perception of 20 years ago," Gulati said. It's not "'Yes, we know the U.S. will fight, and they're strong and fast and they'll keep working.' Now, especially after that Portugal game, people are saying, 'Wow. They played.'

This being soccer, of course, there's a kicker.

"The perceptions would have been a lot better," Gulati said, "if we had held on for the win" against Portugal.

There's still a chance for the United States to make a bold statement, to announce its arrival on the international scene. And it has everything to do with advancing out of this group.

Gulati, for one, believes that his team has a special advantage heading into today's decisive match: Jurgen Klinsmann.

"I walk into a room with Jurgen and talk to him and I come out of that room believing we can win the World Cup," Gulati siad. "And he never says, 'We're going to win the World Cup.'

"But he's just so confident about it, and I think that's extraordinary. And I think it fits perfectly with the American mentality.

"He exudes confidence."

John Godfrey is the founder and editor in chief of American Soccer Now and he would love to hear your thoughts on Klinsmann, Gulati, and this match. Go!

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