The possibilities were as dizzying as a Tim Howard punt into the muggy Brazilian sky.
If the United States could beat or tie Germany in Thursday's crucial game, it would advance to the knockout round of the World Cup for the fourth time in 64 years.
Lose, and the U.S. team might still make it, depending on what happened in another game 1,300 miles away.
Probably few of the star-spangled crazies who packed Delia Foley's Pub in Federal Hill to see the match on television hoped their team would advance by losing. But when it happened — a 1-0 loss in the coastal town of Recife, combined with Portugal's 2-1 win over Ghana in Brasilia — they were glad to take it.
"We did what we had to do, and that's what matters," said Christine Kukich, 24, of Baltimore. "Now let's keep our composure into the next round."
The U.S. will face Belgium on Tuesday with an eye toward reaching the quarterfinals for just the second time since 1950; the team finished eighth in 2002.
Kukich was like many of the hundreds at Delia Foley's, one of the many pubs at which a growing number of U.S. fans of international soccer have been following the FIFA World Cup, this year's version of the biggest sporting event in the world.
A former college player at the University of Delaware, she grasped the nuances of the match as it unfolded, but her fandom was anything but understated. With her American flag shorts, star-spangled drink-holding glove, and bright-red U.S. cap worn backward, she and friend Brian Schutz, 26, hollered like English soccer hooligans throughout and never lost hope against the heavily favored Germans.
Schutz, a marketer, defused the tension at crucial moments by lapsing into his impression of the famed British soccer announcer Ian Darke.
"I'm sure we'll advance," Kukich said, even as a U.S. defender had to dive feet first to break up another German scoring chance.
Downstairs, a dozen people sat at the bar and 50 more stood or sat at tables.
Steve Raymond and Adam Knoll, 35-year-old insurance agents, were so engrossed in the action they barely glanced away to talk about it. Like most in the bar, they'd had to come up with some way of getting off work. In their case it was easy: They run a local agency together.
"We happen to be each other's bosses," said Raymond, who added that he was conducting business on his smartphone as he watched the Germans pound shot after shot at Howard, the U.S. goalkeeper, during the first 15 minutes.
The barrage didn't seem to worry Knoll, who said the best chance for the United States was to hang back on defense and wait for good opportunities to counterattack.
"We're right where we want to be," he said, his fingers tightening around a cold drink. "I expect this game to end in a draw."
In the upstairs bar, 70 people adorned in red, white and blue jammed in front of a theater-size screen.
Andrew Nowak, 22, Wrightson Dawson, 23, and Anthony Maiorano, 22, clad in a blinding array of Uncle Sam hues, made their presence known from their seats right in front of the giant TV.
Dawson was keenly aware that a tie would keep the U.S. dream alive.
"Don't give up a goal!" he shouted as a defender held on to the ball in the U.S. zone.
"Why was he open?" yelled Maiorano at a fullback who failed to cover German striker Thomas Mueller.
"Come on, America," said Nowak as the Germans lined up for a free kick at midfield that ended up going nowhere.
The game's biggest reversal — and biggest roar at Foley's — came during the 54th minute, when Howard made a spectacular diving save but could not recover in time as Mueller drove the rebound into the far right corner of the goal.
Maiorano grabbed his head with both hands and stalked off.
With less than 40 minutes left, the U.S., with its conservative approach, seemed unlikely to even the score and likely to suffer an ignominious ouster, just as the team had appeared ready to assert itself as a true power on a skeptical world stage.
But the vagaries of a sport that still puzzles many Americans saved the day.
Dawson, keeping one eye on the big screen and another on his smartphone, was watching Portugal play Ghana for most of the game and keeping up a running account.
About 70 minutes into the U.S. match, he announced that Portugal and Ghana were tied at 1. Moments later, when Portugal scored, setting the table for the U.S. to advance, he leapt into the air.
"Yeahhhh!" he cried. "We're in!"
As the minutes ticked down, even Maiorano seemed hopeful: "This is actually going to happen in my lifetime."
When it was over, the United States winning by the odd agency of defeat, it felt like outright victory.
"U-S-A! U-S-A!" the fans thundered in the upstairs bar. Downstairs, a roomful of fans sang along with Lee Greenwood's "Proud to Be An American," which pounded through the loudspeakers.
Kukich, still cradling a drink in her glove, acknowledged that the U.S. is a long shot to win the tournament, but in her view, it was no time to think small.
"I believe!" she said.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun