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Three Points: Barcelona vs. Elche

La Liga Aug 24, 2014
Read
 Posted by Doug McIntyre
Jun 26, 2014

Battered and bruised, but through

Despite a 1-nil loss to Germany, the United States reached the knockout stage of consecutive World Cups for the first time.

RECIFE, Brazil -- Clint Dempsey and Fabian Johnson were sporting black eyes while Jermaine Jones said he thought he broke his nose -- as Dempsey had in the Americans' World Cup opener vs. Ghana -- after the United States lost 1-0 to Germany Thursday afternoon in the teams' Group G finale.

The U.S. advanced to the knockout round anyway, but didn't get away with it unscathed. The physical and emotional toll it took on the Americans quite clearly was tremendous. It was worth it. They're alive.

"It was a grind for sure," said defender Matt Besler, who was pulled halfway through that first match against Ghana with a sore hamstring before returning to go the distance in the games against Portugal and Germany. "All three games were tough physically. I think it took a little bit of a toll on everybody. There was a lot of ups and downs -- that's what its about."

United StatesUnited States
GermanyGermany
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ESPN, ESPN3 FT
Match 45
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It was about surviving by any means necessary. That the U.S. did was labeled a "huge achievement" by coach Jurgen Klinsmann following Thursday's match, one that was played on a rain-soaked field that surely took even more out of their already depleted reserves.

It has been a war of attrition from the start.

The U.S. lost irreplaceable target striker Jozy Altidore just 21 minutes into the tournament. Besler, midfielder Alejandro Bedoya (hip) and untold others are still hurting -- the word is other injuries have gone unreported in Brazil.

Fighting through when possible is just part of the price of success.

"You can see everybody gives 100 percent for this team," said Jones, who joked that at least his nose, while swollen, was still straight. "It doesn't matter if you broke your nose, if you have [black] eyes. Today the coach made some switches and the guys that came were right there to fight for the team. That's important."

Omar Gonzalez replaced Geoff Cameron in central defense, and Bedoya, who did come on as a second-half substitute, was spelled by Brad Davis on the left wing. Even more lineup changes could be on the way when the U.S. meet Group H winner Belgium in their round-of-16 match Tuesday in Salvador (4 p.m. ET, ESPN and WatchESPN).

U.S. INTO THE ROUND OF 16

- Doug McIntyre: Battered, bruised, through
- Jeff Carlisle: U.S. grades
- Chris Jones: U.S. ride their luck
- Klinsmann: "Now we really get started"
- Will the perception of U.S. soccer change?
- Tactics Board: Organized U.S. restrict Germany
- Social media: Reaction to U.S. progress

If the U.S. is to progress deeper into the tournament, Klinsmann made it clear that every one of his 23 players (with possibly the exception of Altidore and his strained left hamstring) must be prepared to step in.

"We don't have the luxury to say that all the players are going to go every four days and always be on the highest level," he said. "Down the road you will have always these players coming in, and they have to do their job."

Still, Klinsmann can't replace everybody, and there were heavy legs all over the field at Arena Pernambuco as the clock ticked toward 90 minutes. Getting an extra day of rest will help (inexplicably, Germany's reward for topping Group G is playing a day earlier), but this is where the grueling fitness training the U.S. did during its pre-Cup camp must become a factor, according to Dempsey.

"We prepared for this tournament in a way that we were going to have to be as fit as possible, and we made sure we put in the work," the U.S. captain said.

"I think we'll be fine."

Doug McIntyre

Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has watched or attended almost every U.S. men's national team game since Paul Caligiuri's "shot heard 'round the world" and has covered the Yanks for The Mag since 2005. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.