Obama Praises U.S. World Cup Team: From 'Non-Factor' To 'Middle Of The Pack'

06/26/2014 05:38 pm ET | Updated Jun 26, 2014

President Barack Obama praised the U.S. soccer team for advancing to the World Cup Round of 16 on Thursday, calling it a “a breakthrough moment" for the sport in America.

“The U.S. exceeded expectations. This year you get a sense it has captured popular imagination,” he told ABC News in an interview that will air Friday on “Good Morning America."

Despite its 1-0 loss to an impressive Germany squad on Thursday, Obama said the team had progressed from being a “non-factor” to being a “middle of the pack team.”

“We’re not Germany yet or Italy or France or Argentina or Brazil,” he added. “But we’re now in the mix.”

Obama watched the game with aides aboard Air Force One en route to Minnesota, where he hosted a town hall and had lunch with a woman who wrote him a letter earlier this year.

"They are defying the odds and earned a lot of believers in the process," Obama said of the team when he landed.

U.S. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann came under heavy fire earlier this month for not showing enough support for his squad before the tournament even began.

“We cannot win this World Cup, because we are not at that level yet,” Klinsmann told The New York Times in an interview published earlier this month. “For us, we have to play the game of our lives seven times to win the tournament.”

“Realistically, it is not possible," he added.

Klinsmann, a former German football manager and player, was more careful with his choice of words before the USA's first game against Ghana.

“I booked my flight home after the final,” Klinsmann said, according to ESPN. “Expectations now in the United States are very high.”

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