2014 World Cup Group G team previews: USA

Analysis of USA's 2014 World Cup chances in a Group G with Ghana, Germany and Portugal.
USA team photo taken before an international friendly on May 27, 2014. John G Mabanglo / EPA
USA team photo taken before an international friendly on May 27, 2014. John G Mabanglo / EPA

Jurgen Klinsmann has not hesitated to take unpopular decisions in his mission to toughen up the United States team going into the World Cup finals.

That includes the World Cup stunner to leave Landon Donovan, the Americans’ all-time leading scorer, home from Brazil. The progress may not be clear in the results but Klinsmann has backing for his tactics as he prepares to take on his former country in their opening group.

The 49-year-old coach, who as a player helped Germany capture the 1990 World Cup and 1996 European Championship, took over the American side in 2011.

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“One of the reasons we hired Jurgen was to advance the program forward and we’ve seen the initial stages of that happening on the field and also off the field in various areas,” said US Soccer president Sunil Gulati.

“In the past two years he has built a strong foundation from the senior team down to the youth teams and we want to continue to build upon that success.”

Klinsmann, who guided the Germans to third in the 2006 World Cup on home soil, was the first non-US coach in 16 years for the Americans, but his success in leading North American qualifying for the World Cup was rewarded with a four-year contract extension last December that will keep him in the post through the 2018 World Cup.

“I am very fortunate to continue the work we started more than 2 1/2 years ago,” Klinsmann said. “It’s exciting to see the progress we have made. We continue to make improvements on all fronts.”

Klinsmann has made goalkeeper Tim Howard, strikers Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore and midfielders Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones the “spine” of a US squad that have developed backbone but have been unable to duplicate their run to the 2004 quarter-finals in the past two World Cups.

Klinsmann has juggled line-ups often in analysing talent, a move that upset some players, notably when he benched defender and former captain Carlos Bocanegra just before the first qualifier last year at Honduras.

Klinsmann saw it as another test of character as well as talent.

“All those elements we throw at them now because if we don’t do it, it’s too late in the World Cup,” Klinsmann said in March. “The only way we get them to that next level is to run them through this uncomfortable period, and they have to learn and they have to swim in the cold water. We’re going to convince the world later.”

The Americans came together to advance and the wisdom of Klinsmann’s toughening efforts proved out in the end.

The US are in Group G against Germany, now coached by his former assistant Joachim Low, Portugal, featuring superstar Cristiano Ronaldo and Ghana.

“The group is a real challenge,” Klinsmann said. “But we have built up our self-confidence over the last 2 1/2 years and we have the most successful year in the 100 years of US football behind us.

“We have a completely realistic chance of making the knockout phase.”

Five to watch:

Jozy Altidore, striker (Sunderland); Age 24; 67 caps. Perhaps no American player has ever had a more hot-and-cold, up-and-down career than Jozy Altidore. Unfortunately for the Americans, he arrives at the World Cup in a down phase, having scored just one goal in 31 matches with Sunderland – a season that earned him much derision around the Premier League. More fortunately for Klinsmann, Altidore has been at his best with the Yanks, scoring 21 goals in 67 matches, including four in qualifying, tying him for most in Concacaf along with Honduras’ Jerry Bengtson and Carlo Costly.

Michael Bradley, midfielder (Toronto FC); Age 26; 84 caps. Former US coach Bob Bradley’s son has come into his own as perhaps the most complete player in the American side in recent years. After a sometimes uneven spell at Borussia Monchengladbach from 2008-211 and an aborted three-match spell with Aston Villa in 2011, established himself nicely in Serie A during runs with Chievo Verona and AS Roma. Returned to North America on a $10 million (Dh 36.7m) transfer in January. Playmaking will largely determine how successful American attack can be against tough opponents.

Clint Dempsey, forward (Seattle Sounders); Age 31; 103 caps. Shine has worn off a bit since a spell at Fulham that saw him become a club legend, appearing in 184 Premier League matches and scoring 50 times, which ended in 2012. Was less impressive with Tottenham Hotspur in 2012/13 before making his return to the States to play with MLS’ Sounders. Will have far and away the most international goals (36) of any American in Brazil, and his gutty style and touch for goal will still be counted on by Klinsmann, who has made him the US captain.

Tim Howard, goalkeeper (Everton); Age 35; 98 caps. The ageless heart and soul of the American side at this point, Howard has made nearly 300 appearances with Everton since being first loaned to the Premier League club by Manchester United, where he never really stuck, in 2006. Playing in his third World Cup, he doesn’t have the quite the same agility he used to, but provides more than enough in awareness and intelligence.

Geoff Cameron, defender (Stoke City); Age 28; 25 caps. Late bloomer who has become an invaluable part of the United States’ central defence. Has been a stable presence in back for Stoke the past two seasons in England, making 35 appearances in 2012/13 and another 37 in 2013/14, and even scored twice this year. Wasn’t a major part of the American side until 2012, when he made 10 appearances which he followed up by becoming a regular in the US qualifying campaign.

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Published: May 28, 2014 04:00 AM

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