Underdog status is not one that sits well with American sport but this USside are battling through a World Cup that sparkles with far more gifted teams. The masses back home are converting to “soccer” in their millions as if a new obsession has been born in the land of baseball, basketball and gridiron.Until now football has advanced by stealth. Now, there is lift-off. Jürgen Klinsmann’s US reached a last-16 tie in Salvador next week despite losing 1-0 to Germany and posing a negligible threat to surely Europe’s No 1 contender. Since the former darling of White Hart Lane cannot match the talent arsenals of some of the other countries here, he is whipping up American fervour instead. Not only within his squad but across the world’s most powerful nation, where teams leaving American shores (in the Olympics, chiefly) are expected to dominate.
“Everybody said ‘you have no chance’ but we took our chance and now we move on and we really want to prove a point,” said Klinsmann, who wrote to Americans urging them to skip work to watch this final Group G game. He has no choice but to disguise the comparative mediocrity of his squad with fighting spirit.
On a day when Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suárez both went out of the World Cup – for wildly contrasting reasons – the best supported visiting side crept through with a respectable four points and were described as “a proper team now,” by Per Mertesacker, the Germany and Arsenal centre-back.
Clint Dempsey is a stalwart for them and Jermaine Jones was described as “a warrior” by Klinsmann. But Tim Howard, in goal, is their real ace. One of the Premier League’s best, Everton’s keeper maintains an amazingly high standard.