Jurgen Klinsmann

As his 2014 World Cup journey came to a close, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann had plenty to think about after the Americans 2-1 defeat at the hands of Belgium on July 1.

He could begin with the positives, and there are plenty of them.

His team played with an effort that is worth being proud of. They played with more grit and confidence than ever. They weren’t just the same old Americans that weren’t really feared. No, this time they had really earned some respect.

They had taken down old nemesis Ghana and imposed their will on powerhouse Portugal. They had held Germany steady enough to not lose decisively and had been outplayed by Belgium, but through Tim Howard, still showed that their country could also be a home to one of the best soccer talents in the world.

They had played with more toughness, wisdom and poise than ever, while making sure that after this World Cup, the clichés and jokes about American soccer were all but silenced.

They had also made a nation believe. They had made a country come closer together for soccer than ever before. Maybe it was because of the social media craze that’s sweeping America or maybe it was something else, but either way, “I believe” began to feel as patriotic as the red white and blue of the flag.

Klinsmann’s group did not come close to winning the World Cup. In fact, they lost in the exact same way as in 2010, a round of 16, 2-1, extra time loss. But even in losing, the American side was able to capture the attention of their fans at home.

“Many people watched this competition, maybe more than South Africa,” Klinsmann said the day after the Belgium loss. “We are all in this together. We all try to make this game grow in our country and get it to the next level.”

Klinsmann has begun to inspire belief in his national program, but he must also be pondering what needs to happen for his team to take the next step.

A marquee striker is needed with a game that reaches further than anything Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey ever did. The U.S. needs a feared striker that the team can find its identity in – a Suárez, or Neymar or Messi type of player.

Right now, the best chances lay with 19-year-old Julian Green, whose goal minutes after making his World Cup debut against Belgium made a promising statement for the future of U.S. soccer. With four years to develop until the next World Cup, Green could be ready to lead this team and be supported by other young promising players like defenders John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin.

Defense should be the bigger focus, though. A big time goal-scorer won’t make up for the lack of defending the U.S. had throughout the entire World Cup. This is their biggest task at hand to take the next step. Strong defenders are needed desperately. In the Belgium game alone, the U.S. allowed 26 shots compared to nine given up by Belgium. If it were not for Howard’s 15 saves, they would have been completely dismantled.

Great defending won’t necessarily win you a World Cup, but it can neutralize teams like Germany and Brazil in their attacking. If reaching a World Cup victory is possible for the U.S., it will have to start with learning how not to lose.

It’s something that Klinsmann will need to figure out. He will ultimately have to align a group that defends well and creates better counterattacks than the U.S. had in this World Cup.

Klinsmann surely knows this and he has likely already began pondering what his next group of guys will look like.

Older players like Dempsey and Howard might have seen their last World Cup. The U.S. will look completely different in four years. But they also might be more ready. Their time to really make a run at it might be only a few decisions away.

So many questions lay before the USA soccer squad before their first game against Ghana in the FIFA World Cup.

Would they finally be able to top the African nation that had ended their dreams the last two World Cups? Would coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s coaching style work? Could these Americans prove that they could handle the toughest group in the tournament? How would Landon Donovan possibly be replaced?

Just 30 seconds into the game, the answer came.

Forward Clint Dempsey got hold of the ball 10 yards outside of Ghana’s box and dribbled it in, juking Ghana defender John Boye along the way, putting himself in a one-on-one situation with Ghanaian keeper Adam Kwarasey. A left-footed strike from Dempsey slid past Kwarasey, hitting the right post and rolling in.

Just like that, the “I believe” chant that has become America’s symbol of hope came to full fruition.

It was America’s for the taking. And for most of the game, it was clear that this team was ready for the moment.

But even more impressive was how the U.S. team did it. The game was no walk in the park, and the resilience shown shed light on what Klinsmann’s group can handle.

U.S. striker Jozy Altidore was lost after just 20 minutes of play, grabbing his left hamstring and plummeting to the ground while trying to chase down a ball. Dempsey also suffered a bloody nose in the first half.

All the while Ghana, playing much more aggressively in the second half, was able to put the pressure on the American defense, and in the 82nd minute, saw this aggression pay off when midfielder Andre Ayew rocketed the equalizing goal past American keeper Tim Howard.

The memories of the previous defeats at the hands of the quick and agile Ghanaian team started creeping back. But something was different this time: There was no panic among the U.S. squad.

Instead we witnessed a confidence. The same confidence exhibited by multiple players on the team who said prior to arriving in Brazil that they relished being in the acclaimed “group of death” — which also includes Portugal and powerhouse Germany.

The “I believe” attitude could be felt. And when U.S. substitute defender John Brooks headed one into the net just a few minutes before the final whistle, little doubt was left that this team had done everything necessary to prepare for this stage, and more so, that they had done it without doubt.

Both teams had expressed confidence in the ability to win this game but the U.S. had shown it.

“It was what we expected,” Klinsmann said in an interview with ESPN after the contest. “We got the three points that we wanted and we can move on.”

The 2-1 win was necessary for the Americans to have a realistic chance to make it out of their group.

Given Portugal’s struggles against Germany earlier in the day, the window of opportunity to advance seems to have already expanded for Klinsmann’s side.

More than ever, this American group is certain they can prove their readiness to take on the most frightening of teams in this world-class competition and once again display the growth of the sport in North America.

The last time the U.S. won its opening game of the World Cup was 2002, just before Dempsey joined the international team. On Monday afternoon, he finally got to experience that same feeling.

“It was a dream come true,” Dempsey said. “This win will give us confidence going into the next game. The boys showed a lot of heart.”