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ESPN The Magazine 2014 World Cup Guide

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Amid a storm that ultimately dumped several inches of snow on Dick’s Sporting Goods Park outside Denver, the U.S. men’s national team was more concerned about digging themselves out of a different mess. Having lost their opener against Honduras in CONCACAF’s hexagonal World Cup qualifier and staring at a trip to Mexico four days later, this March 22 match against Costa Rica loomed as a virtual must-win for the Yanks. In front of 19,374 hardy souls, Clint Dempsey controlled the ball well enough to slot it into the net in the 16th minute. Instead of burying hopes, the Snow Clasico became a moment frozen in U.S. soccer history. 15 Goals by the U.S. in the Hex (10 games), the group high. Jozy Altidore scored four and Dempsey notched three. 27 Games the…

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WHO Keepers Tim Howard and Brad Guzan WHAT Celebrating the U.S. men’s national team’s 2-0 victory over Mexico WHEN Sept. 10, 2013 WHERE Columbus Crew Stadium, Columbus, Ohio Dos a cero! For the U.S. and their fans, this Spanish phrase has become a rallying cry. But for Mexico, it’s more of a recurring nightmare. The rivals met in Columbus (their fourth World Cup qualifier showdown there since 2001), and for the fourth straight time the Americans triumphed. But the victory wasn’t the only cause for the Yanks to celebrate. The win clinched a seventh consecutive World Cup berth for the U.S. with a pair of qualifiers still remaining. So Howard (near right) and Guzan popped the corks, doused their teammates and savored a historic victory with Brazil in their sights.…

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Early in Hex qualifiers, the U.S. was desperate. At 1–1–1 with two goals (both by Clint Dempsey), the Yanks looked tanked. Then Jozy Altidore took off. Starting with a goal in a 4-3 friendly win over Germany in June, the forward scored in a U.S.-record five straight appearances. Three of those were Hex wins, the other a friendly victory at Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Altidore had a hat trick. The then-23-year-old capped his scoring with a goal in a 2-0 defeat of Jamaica (right) as the U.S. won CONCACAF for the third time running. With eight goals in 14 games in 2013, Altidore is peaking for Brazil. 21 Altidore’s goal total in 65 USMNT appearances, tied with Bruce Murray for sixth place all time. 3.14 Altidore’s scoring rate, in games. For context: All-time USMNT…

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it's all taken care of

ARRANGE TRAVEL, housing, meals, entertainment and security for 23 players and 27 staff members and officials going to Brazil for the World Cup. Be sure they’re well-hydrated and well-protected as they traverse the fifth-largest country in the world. Keep in mind the climate and culture and costs. Keep an eye on the friends and family and fans accompanying them. Project a positive image for U.S. Soccer. Please the folks back home with your all-around performance. That’s pretty much the agenda facing Tom King and U.S. Soccer. He and the organizers for the other 31 countries in the World Cup have to sweat the small stuff, like having enough bottled water, and the big stuff, like a certain 13-pound golden trophy. It’s a wonder that any of them are sleeping. “No, there’s nothing…

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counter attacks

DOUG MCINTYRE: DOES THE U.S. SURVIVE GROUP PLAY? Alexi Lalas: If it’s my money, I’m saying no. If it’s your money, I’m saying yes. Taylor Twellman: This team is disciplined enough to get three points out of Ghana. If they do, I think they’ve got a legit chance because the game in Manaus will be very difficult for Portugal. The U.S. will be more used to the travel, the weird weather. WILL MLS BE BLAMED IF THE U.S. DOESN’T ADVANCE? Twellman: Naturally. Look at the uproar when Clint Dempsey came back. Then Michael Bradley comes back? Immediately, everybody on Twitter and Facebook is saying we’re doomed. Lalas: If the U.S. plays poorly, people will say it’s because these players came back to MLS. If the U.S. does well, it will be because these players are…

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and the winner is…

BEST INK RONALDO None, so he can give blood twice a year MESSI His son’s name, Thiago, is inscribed on his left calf, along with the boy’s handprints. NEYMAR Has a tattoo of a diamond along with the word “sorella,” which is Italian for “sister ” His sister, Rafaella, has a matching design. SUAREZ The name of his eldest daughter, Delfina, is inked on his right wrist, which he kisses after he scores. VERDICT RONALDO Li’l Messi’s hands are cute, but that may get creepy in years to come. Neymar? Sorta creepy now. While Suarez strikes a balance of sentiment and celebration, Ronaldo’s choice to go untouched wins, especially considering the cause. BEST GOAL CELEBRATION RONALDO “The Claw,” which represents his son’s attempts to climb out of his crib. MESSI His is generally tame: He looks to the sky…