When we last saw the U.S. Men's National Soccer Team, it was losing to Germany to close out the World Cup's group stage, but advancing anyway because of a superior goal differential to Portugal. That kind of thing can't happen again: Now that we've reached the knockout round, any loss from here on out means elimination. With kickoff set for 4 p.m., here's a primer for the biggest U.S. game of the tournament yet.
How'd we get here?
The 32 teams of the World Cup were divided into eight groups of four, with the top two from each group advancing to a bracket-style knockout round. The U.S. finished second in Group G, and therefore is playing Belgium, which finished first in Group H.
Where can I watch?
As with the previous U.S. games, you can stream it online using WatchESPN. Take note, though: More than 1.7 million viewers were using the service concurrently at one point during the U.S.-Germany match last week, and some experienced technical difficulties as a result of the record number of streams. If you can get to a TV, it'll be on ESPN and Univision. (Univision also offers a Spanish-language stream online.)
If I'm rooting for the U.S., I should avoid all things Belgium today, right?
That's your call. Waffle House is calling for a boycott of Belgian waffles today. But here in New York, things are a bit more diplomatic. Wafels and Dinges will hand out free waffles for 15 minutes after every Belgium goal, but they'll also hand out free ice cream after U.S. goals.
How rare is it for the U.S. to advance this far?
In recent years, not too rare, actually. Since 1990, they'd gotten past the group stage three times, in 1994, 2002, and 2010. In other words, they'd advanced to the Round of 16 in every other World Cup before getting there for the second straight tournament this year. Getting to the quarterfinals, which they'd do with a victory, is a much rarer feat: Since 1990 (when the U.S. played in its first world Cup in 40 years), it's only reached the Round of 8 once, when it lost to Germany in 2002.
How good is Belgium, exactly?
They're 11th in the FIFA World Rankings, just ahead of the United States, which is 13th. By comparison, Germany (to whom the U.S. lost by a goal last week) is ranked second, and Portugal (whom the Americans tied) is fourth. That said, Belgium was one of just four countries to go 3-0-0 in the group stage, winning all three games by a goal. They've been great defensively so far, but their back line is banged up. Belgium has won four of their last five matches with the U.S., and they've never lost a game that goalie Thibaut Courtois has played for them.
It's been five days since the U.S. played. Are there any changes since that match?
Yes! Striker Jozy Altidore, who injured his hamstring in the first half of the United States' first match of the tournament, has been medically cleared to play. He may not be 100 percent and he won't necessarily start, but he'd still be an option as a late-game substitution.
What happens next if the Americans win?
A quarterfinal game on Saturday against Lionel Messi and Argentina, who needed extra time to beat Switzerland 1-0 this afternoon.
This post has been updated to reflect the winner of Argentina-Switzerland.