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Ghana was a must-win for the United States, but Portugal will define their World Cup

Jun 22, 2014, 3:27 PM EDT

Klinsmann Getty Images

Without three points against Ghana, none of this would be possible.

The first hurdle has been cleared thanks to the now-household name John Brooks, but the real test of skill and ability arrives tonight.

With the United States set to take on Portugal in Manaus – the middle of three in the “Group of Death” – the entire spectrum of possibilities shines brightly upon the Arena da Amazonia.

The draw between Germany and Ghana has put the US in a feast-or-famine situation. A win against the #4-ranked team in the World today and the Stars & Stripes would be the first of its group to qualify for the knockout stage. Not even Germany was able to pull that off in two matches.

But just as easily, a loss or even a draw could be the start of a downward spiral that would likely come to a disappointing close against Germany.

This is where World Cups are defined for bubble teams like the United States.

Will this tournament mark the announcement of the US on the world stage as a team to contend with once every four years? Or do they remain among the middle pack for another cycle?

Jurgen Klinsmann proved against Ghana that this team has fitness, resolve, fight, and guts.  But now against Portugal, this team must prove they have skill, technical ability, and quality.

They must prove they belong.  They must earn their place.

With so much on the line, we will see not just where the United States currently stands, but where they hope to go in the future. Does this young generation of American talent have the guts to perform in such an enormous game? Or will they fail to produce the quality it takes to defeat such a

Portugal is beatable. Heck, anyone is beatable in this crazy tournament. But the US has an opportunity. Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t 100%. Pepe is suspended. Fabio Coentrao is injured. The door is open to take advantage of a momentous situation.

But the important point to remember is whatever the outcome, it will likely be deserved.  Should the US slay the beast in front of them and secure their footing in the knockout round, they will deserve it.  If they stumble to the precipice of elimination, it will also likely be a just result.

Jurgen Klinsmann has the United States within reach of a win which could define the national soccer identity going forward into further building an ascending future in the sport.

It’s sort of a no-lose situation for the US. If they fail to achieve such a victory, it would by no means mark a degradation of the country’s progress made in the last 20 years.

But if they can complete the task in front of them, this band of 23 players will be known for a while as those who made the leap in Brazil.

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