FRISCO - With the United States one result away from qualifying for the knockout round and exciting games from Brazil dominating the headlines, World Cup fever is gripping the country and it's no different at Toyota Stadium.
FC Dallas returned to training on Friday morning ahead of Tuesday's Lamar Hunt US Open Cup showdown with the Houston Dynamo, but impossible to not keep an eye on the action down in Brazil and the heroics of the US Men's National Team.
"Needless to say it was exciting from the first minute to the 90th minute," Stephen Keel said about the USA's 2-1 win over Ghana. "It was action packed and had a lot of ups and downs…I think it’s phenomenal because the hype around the world cup is so big right now. Everyone’s watching, especially the US and for a game like that to get the three points is all that matters."
FCD is certainly no stranger to scoring off set pieces, and it was the United States who took a page out of that book with John Anthony Brooks' 86th-minute header, sealing a crucial three points for the Jurgen Klinsmann's side.
"You ask teams in CONCACAF what the US is good at and they’ll say set pieces, which is good because all you need is one," said Chris Seitz. "I think that might have been the only corner kick of the second half and it’s kind of the team mentality. They just need one chance and they’ll get it. They didn’t have a lot of shots on goal or free kicks, but they made them count when they did and in this tournament that’s really all that matters."
"That’s US soccer, it’s a never say die attitude and I think it even translates to MLS games where teams are down a goal or two and fight to the final whistle," said Keel. "I think it carries to our national team and the results showed against Ghana."
Over 1,000 people attended FCD's first two McDonald's World Cup Tour watch parties, and a crowd significantly bigger than that is expected for FCD's USA vs Portugal watch party at Klyde Warren Park in downtown Dallas. A big part of why the World Cup has taken off as it has, is the extended coverage on tournament broadcaster ESPN.
"I think obviously the win helps, but having the games on a time zone where everyone can watch them is huge for US Soccer," said Seitz. "The afternoon of games is great as we’re usually having to wake up at 6:00am to watch. The fact that the US won their first game, the fact that they’re on ESPN, all of it is huge and it just shows how soccer is growing in the US."
These US World Cup games also give some FCD players a chance to do something that normally is impossible given the fact that they actually play on the field every week - be rabid, screaming soccer fans during matches like the rest of us.
"I watched the game by myself and the neighbors were probably wondering what was going on in there, but it‘s a little bit different on the side where you’re a fan cheering," said Keel. "I think now I know how my friends and family feel watching our games. It’s definitely something where I have a huge vested interest in the US team and I was like everyone else holding on and then cheering and yelling when we scored."
Up next is Sunday's huge showdown with world powerhouse Portugal. While the Iberian side is hobbled with injuries and suspensions, there will certainly be a tough effort from Cristiano Ronaldo's team, though the USA knows with at least a draw and a Germany win over Ghana, knockout round advancement is nearly assured.
"I don’t think there’s anyone in that [USA] locker room that doesn’t think they have a chance to win this game and that might be the American attitude, but it’s a group of guys that I see from the outside that thinks they can compete with anyone," said Seitz. "It's a hard group obviously, but they’re a group of guys that know Portugal will play great soccer. Just like against Ghana if they defend well and take care of their chances, I don’t see why we can’t pull out a result in the second game."