SALVADOR, Brazil —
“The country is paying attention in a way that it’s never done before, and we have a chance to make some history,” U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said.
President Barack Obama even watched last week from Air Force One.
A victory against Belgium would put the U.S. in a Saturday quarterfinal against Argentina or Switzerland. With kickoff at 4 p.m. EDT, people are expected to leave work early, take extended lunch breaks and sneak looks at online streams from their mobile phones and office desktops.
“It means a lot to us, the energy that comes from the United States,” said Klinsmann, the former German star striker who moved to California in 1998. “You see where the game is going in the United States. You can’t stop it anymore. It’s breaking through.”
The 13th-ranked Americans are in the knockout rounds of consecutive World Cups for the first time. Belgium, ranked 11th after missing the last two World Cups, has won three straight games at soccer’s showcase for the first time.
But the Red Devils are banged up. Central defender Vincent Kompany (strained left groin) is questionable and left back Thomas Vermaelen (right hamstring) is out. Midfielders Moussa Dembele and Marouane Fellaini — known for his mop of bushy dark hair — have been slowed by calf injuries.
Fellaini is a former Everton teammate of American goalkeeper Tim Howard, who played with Belgian forwards Romelu Lukaku and Kevin Mirallas last season. Howard is also familiar with Eden Hazard, who was criticized for his play during the first round despite setting up go-ahead goals against Russia and Algeria.
“Probably one of the best players in the Premier League,” Howard said. “He’s shifty. He’s crafty. He’s everything you want in a winner.”
Dempsey, 31, and 32-year-old defender DaMarcus Beasley are unlikely to be on the 2018 roster. Howard, 35, hasn’t committed to another four-year cycle.