MANAUS, Brazil – The joke spread within one minute of the result.
"The U.S. loses 2-2 to Portugal."
U.S. players collapsed on the field in Manaus, staring up into the humid jungle sky, wondering what could have been. One minute. One minute from escaping the Group of Death. One minute from shutting down one of the greatest players on the planet.
It all changed in one minute. Michael Bradley was stripped just past midfield by the Portugal defense. The ball found its way to Cristiano Ronaldo, who made no mistake with his cross. Ronaldo's ball hit the head of a diving Varela and that match was over.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann fought his emotions sitting before reporters in his postgame press conference. He winced ever so slightly at questions about morale, and glared when asked how the team would play Germany – the coach's home country.
"You have to move on. we're thinking about Germany," Klinsamnn said. "We have one day less to recover. They played yesterday, we played today. We played in the Amazon, they played in a location where they don't have to travel much. We got to do it the tough way, so we're going to do it the tough way."
The U.S. was one minute from a historic win. A defining win. Now, that defining moment will come Thursday, almost 2,000 miles from the jungle, near the shores of Recife.
Four points in the Group of Death is something every single U.S. player and fan would have taken before the start of this tournament. Four points, tied for first in the group, playing Germany for the right to be the top-seed. It would have made even the most loyal fan blush to think about.
One minute changed all of that. It skewed perspectives, crushed hearts, and turned a stadium in the Amazon on its head. The U.S. didn't lose, but the feeling in the moments after was palpable as the team trudged through the sweaty corridor surrounded by reporters.
"We're kind of sad I think," Fabian Johnson said with a shrug. "If somebody had told us that we were going to have four points after those two games I think we would take it, but at this point we are a little bit disappointed."
Disappointed, but not beaten. Dejected, but very much still alive. The U.S. lost its win, but there is still much to play for. This team's World Cup has played like a Rocky movie – Clint Dempsey looks like a Rocky movie.
So the U.S. was knocked down. What a perfect time to get back up.