BUFFALO, N.Y.-Coach Jurgen Klinsmann may believe the United States has no chance of winning the 2014 World Cup.
But a 2-1 win over Ghana in the opening round, coupled with a poor showing by Portugal in a 4-0 loss against Germany, and the U.S. prospects for advancing past the group stage have improved.
Just how much did the win over Ghana, which reached the quarterfinals in 2010, mean for the U.S.?
A former coach in the U.S. Olympic Development Program – and native of Leicester, England – gave his thoughts.
"It was huge," Canisius College men's soccer coach Dermot McGrane said. "To get a win in the opening game of group stage, I think their percentage rose from 33 percent to 69 percent that they can get through the knockout stage. It was a massive win."
For months, Klinsmann has been extremely frank about his team's chances, going as far as saying, "We cannot win this World Cup, because we are not at that level yet," in a December interview.
"When Jurgen was talking, I think he's talking about winning the actual trophy," McGrane said. "He wasn't talking about the group stages. I think the goal of the team will be to get through the group stage and then it's a knockout contest and anything can happen."
But in order to even compete for the trophy, the U.S. has to first get through the so-called "Group of Death" (Group G) of Ghana, Portugal and Germany.
"In all probability, if they can just get a tie against Portugal, then they'll more than likely get through the group," McGrane said. "And Portugal, they're in trouble right now."
In the 4-0 loss to Germany, Pepe received a red card (and a possible three-game ban), Hugo Almeida and Fabio Coentrao left with injuries, and Raul Meireles faces a possible suspension after an obscene finger gesture to the referee.
Additionally, Christiano Ronaldo "is probably 60 percent right now and had a terrible game," McGrane said.
The U.S. plays Portugal on Sunday at 6 p.m.
When the teams meet, McGrane expects better play from the team's midfielders – specifically Michael Bradley.
"I think the biggest surprise to me was Bradley had probably the worst game I've seen in a U.S. jersey," McGrane said. "I don't think he can play that badly again. Be looking for him to do more in the next game."
McGrane said the team's defense played "tremendously" against a good Ghana team.
"You know (the U.S.) were under an awful lot of pressure and most teams would have caved a lot earlier than they did," he said. "To hold onto a lead for the entire game, and give up a goal in the last ten minutes, normally teams will get scored on again and lose. For them to come straight back and score was amazing. It showed a great deal of grit and determination from the team."
The Americans may have to continue on without their striker, Jozy Altidore (one of only six players on the roster with World Cup experience), after he left the game with a strained left hamstring. With his availability unknown, Klinsmann may be forced to change his game plan.
"Klinsmann wanted to have a big target player that he could play into," McGrane said. "The other players that he'll now use to replace Jozy are not that style player."
Who could replace Altidore? 23-year-old Aron Johannsson took his place against Ghana, and other possible strikers to take his place include Chris Wondolowski and Julian Green.
While Green is only 19, soccer followers have called the dual citizen of America and Germany extremely talented.
The injury to Altidore only gave more reasons for fans to criticize Klinsmann's decision to leave striker Landon Donovan off the roster. Donovan, long the face of American soccer, didn't fit with the team Klinsmann assembled.
"In the position that he's in, he's going to get second-guessed all the time; there's no avoiding it," McGrane said. "You're going to get half the people to say you should have brought Donovan and half will stick with it and say they're still better off without him."
"Personally, I would have brought Donovan, just for this kind of scenario. And also for the experience he could lend the team."
The U.S. may lack in experience, but Klinsmann has had an eye to the future with the younger roster he put together. If the team isn't on "that level" in 2014, giving younger players experience in these big games should improve the team's chances for 2018.
"It's something that can't be duplicated in practice sessions," McGrane said. "There is no alternative for the actual real experience. For them to have gone through this at a younger age, it will serve them tremendously well when they hit the next World Cup. They've been through the roughest times, so it's going to just get easier from this point on."
McGrane has devoted his life to the game of soccer. So when he saw how many fans across the country packed into bars and held viewing parties, he couldn't have been happier. The attention the sport is getting can go very far to continuing to grow the game in America, he said.
"It's tremendous for the game of soccer," McGrane said. "Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to go down to Hertel Avenue to watch the game myself, but I had a lot of friends who were there. The scenes they've described to me sound amazing."
Hertel Avenue has become the unofficial headquarters for soccer fans in Buffalo.
"Next Sunday there is no way I won't be on Hertel watching the game. I think to watch it in that kind of an atmosphere just adds to the overall event."
And hopefully, Klinsmann is wrong in his predictions and U.S. soccer fans have many more games to watch in 2014.