Forget ‘The Miracle of Belo Horizonte’. Forget Pele bumping down in the Big Apple. Forget the USA providing the stage for sport’s grandest spectacle. Forget Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan leaving their country 16 minutes away from bewildering Brazil and conquering the FIFA Confederations Cup.
Nothing has given soccer in the States a bigger popularity hike than this World Cup and the Stars and Stripes’ 2-1 win over Ghana in their 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ curtain-raiser. Barack Obama, Lebron James, Justin Timberlake, Jon 'Bones' Jones, Jimmy Fallon, Ryan Seacrest and Robert Kardashian were among the mega-celebrities who helped smash Twitter records. Many of their tweets were tributes to Clint Dempsey, whose impeccably taken goal after just 30 seconds – and refusal to go off after suffering a broken nose – propelled Jurgen Klinsmann’s men to victory.
FIFA caught up with the 31-year-old to discuss that deadlock-breaker in Natal, his injury, Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo, the terrific support USA have received in Brazil and the Americans’ immense interest in this World Cup.
FIFA: Clint, you shocked the entire crowd by scoring in the first minute. How did that feel?
Clint Dempsey: It’s what you think about all day. You want to try to help your team do well and you want to try to step up in major competitions and for me, I've been able to do that in three World Cups – three consecutive World Cups – and I was happy I was able to get the goal.
What does scoring in three World Cups mean to you?
Every time you score a goal in a World Cup it's always a dream come true. As I little kid it's what I used to pray about when I'd go to bed, that one day I could play in a World Cup and hopefully score, and I've had the opportunity to do it in three!
USA showed great spirit to not let their heads drop and get the winning goal…
Yeah, I think we have a lot of character in our team. If we had got a draw from the game it would have felt like a loss, even though Ghana had more possession and more chances, just because of the fact that we had led for so much of the game. But being able to come back and get the game-winning goal shows our character and our resilience, that we keep going to the end. That's what we're going to have to do if we want to get out of this group.
You took a nasty kick to the face against Ghana. How’s the injury?
I'll be better [against Portugal] than I was second-half. I couldn't breathe because I had, I guess, q-tips. I don´t even know what it's called! They're plugs I guess. They put them in your nose, so I couldn't breathe out of my nostrils. Now I can breathe out of my nose, so I'll be fine.
It’s going to be hot in Manaus…
I think it will be a difficult thing that both teams will have to deal with, in terms of how you manage the game because of the humidity and the heat. But at the same time we prepared the best that we could in terms of locations. Our last location that we were at was Jacksonville, Florida. There was a lot of humidity as well there. I mean I grew up in Texas. Some of the boys are used to these conditions but at the end of the day, both teams have to deal with it.
How have you been preparing for Portugal?
Every game is difficult. You prepare the best you can, watch tapes, [look at] strengths and weaknesses, figure out ways that you can exploit their weaknesses and try to give you an advantage to get points from the game, but it's still going to be a difficult game. They have a lot of quality players and we'll have to be at our best to get points. We really want a result because last thing you want is going to the last game needing other teams to try and do you a favour.
Is there extra focus on stopping Cristiano Ronaldo?
I think that you have to focus on the team as a whole. Yes, there are players who can make a difference and make something out of nothing, but at the same time you have got to focus on the whole team and figure out a way to manage the game and try to put yourself in the best position to get points.
What do USA need to do to qualify for the next round?
We've got to get more points, hopefully we will do that sooner rather than later. In an ideal world, if you get the three points [against Portugal] then we will be able to go through the group, but that is easier said than done, it's going to be a very difficult game, we will have to be at our best to get points.
This World Cup has really grabbed the attention in the USA. Does this create added expectations?
Our expectations don't change. It’s always to try to get out of the group and take it from there. In terms of more people in the States getting involved and mainstream America watching these games, it's better for the game, to help continue to grow the game in the States. But our expectations don't change: it's to get out of the group and get into the one-off games. Hopefully we’ll get to the [knockout phase].
The support you received from the US supporters in Natal was pretty overwhelming. What did you make of that?
Yes, it's awesome, because that's the 12th man for you. And to be able to have that feeling of feeling that you're at home is pretty special, especially when I remember playing games in the States when I first got in the national side, where you'd be playing and they'd have more fans than you even in your home country. So now things are starting to change and the fact that we are here in Brazil, and playing in these different stadiums, you feel like you have that home-field advantage. It shows how far the game has come in the States.