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US World Cup journey filled with obstacles, not excuses

By Mike Singer | CBSSports.com

A weary Jurgen Klinsmann is relieved to advance from Group G. (Getty Images)

Pardon Jurgen Klinsmann for his momentary lapse. After the Portugal game, the gut-wrenching Portugal game, Klinsmann acknowledged the seemingly frustrating circumstances that the US would have to overcome in order to advance out of the Group of Death.

“We have one less day to recover [than the Germans]. We played in the Amazon, they played in a location where they don't have to travel much. Everything was done for the big favorites to move on. We got to do it the tough way, so we're going to do it the tough way,” he said, only moments after Cristiano Ronaldo and Silvestre Varela ripped out American hearts. Pardon Klinsmann for indulging a fraction of what this US squad has endured to emerge out of group play for the second consecutive World Cup – a first for US soccer, I might add.

There were at least five junctures since the US began its tournament on June 16 in Natal where Klinsmann could've made excuses, could've made it just a bit easier to swallow that the US probably wasn't going to advance from a group featuring two of the top five teams in the world.

No concession speeches were made after Jozy Altidore strained his hamstring in the first half against Ghana. The US's best holding striker went down and all Klinsmann wanted to talk about was when he'd be playing again.“Obviously it's a bummer for all of us with Jozy, but we'll make the best of it. We're gonna get him back in this tournament.”

Or when Clint Dempsey broke his nose in the same match.“Clint has to shake it off with his nose. I broke mine three or four times. It's all right. Give him three or four days,” Klinsmann said, underscoring his empathy.

Lo and behold, less than a week later, Dempsey was chesting-in a goal against Portugal to stake a late 2-1 lead for what appeared to be the game-winner. Dempsey chose not to wear a protective mask in the sticky Manaus air because aside from the unfamiliarity of one, it could've fogged up on him. Or worse, one of those Jeremy Schaap bugs could've hatched a family underneath his eye socket.

You didn't hear this from Klinsmann either, but every team that played in Manaus prior to the US had lost its next game. Flat out lost. England lost to Uruguay. Italy lost to Costa Rica. Cameroon lost to Brazil. Croatia lost to Mexico. (By the way, the US is the only team to advance out of those five). Needing just a draw to make it to the elimination rounds, the US couldn't shake the Manaus hangover as it eventually lost to Germany 1-0 on Thursday.

Klinsmann could've called up his former right hand man, German manager Joachim Low, and subtly agreed to a symbiotic draw. The US would've secured its place in the Round of 16, while the Germans would've guaranteed itself an elimination game against the scraps of Group H (ultimately Algeria). Furthermore, the rain-soaked field in Recife could've masked any attempt at collusion.

Nope. Again, not Klinsi's style.

“There is no such call,” Klinsmann said prior to Thursday's game. “Jogi is doing his job. We are good friends and I am doing my job. … Both teams go into this game and they want to win the group. So we go into this game and try to beat Germany. To put ourselves in the driver seat for the last-16. That is our goal.”

The “reason they call it the Group of Death,” Klinsmann added, “[is] because we're in it, too.”

Klinsmann, unsurprisingly, didn't leave much room for interpretation there, either.

You won't hear these numbers from Klinsmann in the days leading up to Tuesday's match against Belgium, but aside from the Group of Death, the injuries, the weather, the bugs, and the Portugal heartbreak, the US has had to negotiate one other enormous obstacle: Travel.

The US traveled 8,900 miles from its base camp in Sao Paulo (also where the Belgians are located) throughout its three group matches in Natal, Manaus and Recife. That was the most of all 32 teams in the World Cup. In contrast, Belgium traveled 1,050 miles to games at Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo – the least of every team in the World Cup field. Belgium manager Marc Wilmots had the luxury of resting his stars Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany, Axel Witsel, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne against South Korea on Thursday with its future largely settled. That obviously wasn't the case for the US as it was grinding away against Germany, its fate totally unresolved.

Klinsmann won't mention this and neither will his players. He doesn't want justifications or excuses. The US was handed the path of most resistance and survived in full underdog fashion. Don't fault Klinsmann when he doesn't mention this point. Just know that it's a valid one, and that the US deserves to be exactly where it's at, scars and all.

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