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Several hours after the United States survived the "Group of Death" and advanced to the knockout stage of the World Cup, Katya Robinson realized she needed to start packing.

On Saturday, the 33-year-old Santa Rosa soccer fanatic is flying to Brazil to catch World Cup action, and her first game will be Team USA and Belgium on Tuesday.

"This game that just played was so exciting because I have tickets to see them play in the next round," Robinson said Thursday, adding that the United States has been playing like it has never played before in the global tournament.

"It's pretty phenomenal what they're doing right now," she said.

Despite its 1-0 loss to Germany on Thursday, the U.S. team advanced to the next stage of competition because of goal differentials among the four teams playing in Group G. Essentially, Germany's lopsided win over Portugal on June 16 and slim margin of victory Thursday meant Sele?o das Quinas, as the Portuguese are known, were sent packing. The U.S., which tied Portugal on Sunday and beat Ghana on June 16, will face the winner of Group H.

For Robinson, an avid soccer player who plays six or seven games a week in various local leagues and is president of the Sonoma County Adult Co-Ed Soccer League, the United States advancing in the World Cup is a testament to how the game is evolving in America.

In previous World Cups, the American team's play lacked the "technical beauty" of European teams such as Germany, she said. The Americans' approach to the game was "blunt," she said, with the sole aim of attacking the goal.

But now, she said, the U.S. players are "more fine-tuned, compared to past years; there's more fine-tuning and technical playing going."

Danny Hutten, 30, who builds homes with his father's construction company, Robert Hutten Construction of Healdsburg, caught the U.S. vs. Germany game on ESPN Radio while at work. Later in the afternoon, Hutten and a group of friends gathered at Ausiello's 5th Street Grill in Santa Rosa.

Hutten was among local sports fans who actually understood the point differential that allowed the United States to advance. The game is gaining in popularity in the United States, even as the American national team steps up its play.

"The sport is definitely progressing in the United States," Hutten said. "In previous years, we wouldn't have a chance against even mediocre teams."

But now, he said, the U.S. players are holding their own against world class teams.

As the World Cup's popularity grows, some are finding it difficult to find a public place to see the game.

Octavio Leal, a plumber who works for Santa Rosa Plumbing, cleared his schedule Thursday to see the U.S.-Germany game. Leal, who lives in Santa Rosa, went over to The Toad in the Hole in Railroad Square to see the game but couldn't get into the pub.

Then he remembered a recent plumbing job he did at the Courtyard Marriott just down the street and headed over to the lobby, which has a TV and was all but empty.

"It was me and some German guy who was going for the German team," he said.

Leal said he's rooting for Mexico (he was born in Mexico City) and the United States (he's lived in the United States since he was 5), but he said he has a tendency to support the underdog.

Robinson said the current World Cup is "like an underdog tournament."

Aside from the U.S.-Belgium game, Robinson has tickets to see the winners of the Netherlands vs. Mexico game and the Costa Rica vs. Greece game.