RECIFE, Brazil — Some wanted to play soccer barefoot on the beach with Brazilians, experiencing those romanticized images they'd seen on TV. Others dreamed of attending meaningful games in the homeland of Pele.
If they could do that, maybe tip back a few caipirinhas, munch on coxinhas, take a dip in the south Atlantic and cheer on the U.S. national team, what a trip it would be.
Brazil turned out to be the perfect place for the traveling American fan base to come into its own at the World Cup.
"Huge party! It was awesome," Miami resident Katie McCrath said of a gathering hosted by the booster club American Outlaws before Monday's tournament opener for the U.S. team, a 2-1 triumph over Ghana in Natal. "They filled the streets."
They filled a large part of the stadium, too.
"That was one of the really neat things about the first game — hearing the national anthem and it almost feeling like a home game," midfielder Kyle Beckerman said as the U.S. prepared for today's match against Portugal in Manaus. "Being far away and having all those fans there for us was just an amazing feeling."
According to FIFA, more than 200,000 tickets for games were purchased by U.S. residents, second behind only the host country.
The crowd in Natal was laced with red, white and blue, filled with chants of "I believe that we will win," a common U.S. soccer cheer.
"We had heard that there was a ton of Americans, so we were anticipating that," U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "And it was fun for once just to have the upper hand."
Filling a void: U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has a big decision to reveal in today's game: How can he best replace Jozy Altidore?
Altidore, the big, physical forward, is out with a strained left hamstring suffered against Ghana.
Klinsmann can go with speedy Aron Johannsson, who came in Monday as a substitute when Altidore went down. Johannsson scored 21 goals for AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch league and can be deadly close to goal.
Or Chris Wondolowski of the San Jose Earthquakes could get a shot. He can hold the ball well and had led MLS in goals the past two seasons.
Klinsmann could also use Clint Dempsey as the lone forward and play five midfielders to help the defenders deal with Portuguese star forward Cristiano Ronaldo.
"Any formation we play, it's going to take everybody watching each other's backs," Beckerman said.
"We're going to have to be clean with the ball. It doesn't matter what formation we end up coming out with."
How the World Cup works
The 32-team field is divided into eight four-team groups. During the first two weeks, each team plays the other three in its group, earning three points for a win, one for a tie and none for a loss. The top two teams advance to the knockout stage. If teams earn the same number of points, the first tiebreaker is goal differential while the second is goals scored.
The 16 surviving teams from group play advance to a single-elimination tournament. Games that are tied after regulation go to overtime then, if needed, penalty kicks.
Matchups (Saturday-July 1):
• Winner of A vs. Runnerup of B
• Winner of B vs. Runnerup of A
• Winner of C vs. Runnerup of D
• Winner of D vs. Runnerup of C
• Winner of E vs. Runnerup of F
• Winner of F vs. Runnerup of E
•Winner of G vs. Runnerup of H
• Winner of H vs. Runnerup of G
Quarterfinals: July 4-5
Semifinals: July 8-9
Third-place game: July 12
Final: July 13, Rio de Janeiro