Sunil Gulati, the president of U.S. Soccer, is hyperaware of the narrative surrounding the team, of how perceptions of it have changed over the years, of how quickly those can flip again.
"It's no longer the perception of, let's say, 20 years ago: 'Yeah, we know the U.S. will fight, and they're strong, they're fast, and they'll keep working,'" Gulati said Wednesday afternoon. "Now, especially after that Portugal game, they're saying, 'They play.'"
He was mostly right. The United States and Germany were here Wednesday to practice and speak to the media, one day before they meet in an important final group stage game. Every team in Group G is mathematically still able to advance. (Also read: Germany vs Germany clash centre-stage at World Cup)
The Germans, who are nevertheless all but assured to move on, heaped praise on the Americans, but they did defer back to some of the same old superlatives.
"I watched the game against Portugal, and we can see that the U.S. wants to go forward," midfielder Mesut Ozil said through a translator. "They're willing to fight and they're very fit. They can be very dangerous. We should take them seriously."
"But," Ozil added, "if we implement everything our coach has told us to do, we can win."
The coach of Germany is Joachim Low, who previously worked as an assistant to U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, when he was managing the German national team in the 2006 World Cup. (Related: Klose hunting sweet 16th World Cup goal)
The two remain close friends, but Low said he considered it "a game against another national team just like any other national team." He brushed aside the notion that the friendship of the coaches might tempt the teams to play to a mutually beneficial draw.
"People that know us know we're both ambitious," Low said. "Many times, we read in the media that there's kind of an agreement we won't attack each other. No." (Read: Germany can inflict much pain on US)
Low said he was wary of the Americans' aggressiveness. He said his players would need to be sharper than they were in their 2-2 tie against Ghana.
"They have a very compact game," Low said of the U.S. "They don't give enough time to pass the ball. They're very quick. They're very fast."
The U.S. is guaranteed to advance if they can win or draw against Germany. Gulati said the team's confidence was at a historic high.
"I think for the first time in our history - recent history, I'm not talking about 1950 or before - our players believe they're capable of beating anyone."
© 2014 New York Times News Service