United States soon will see if Jurgen Klinsmann made correct moves
By June 26, the world will know whether Jurgen Klinsmann is a genius or perhaps a desperate coach who was trying to pull a miracle out of his back pocket at the World Cup.
By then, the United States will know whether it has qualified from Group G -- aka the Group of Death -- or will be on a plane ride home from Brazil.
Klinsmann made some audacious choices in forging the Americans' 23-man roster: He has not necessarily selected players who played vital qualifying roles, he brought in five U.S. citizens who live in and have played most of their careers in Germany, and he made one glaring omission (Landon Donovan).
However, he has remained upbeat about his team's chances. Group G includes four teams that reached the second round in South Africa in 2010. Only two will advance to the Round of 16.
The United States begins play against Ghana on June 16, the team that eliminated them the past two World Cups. Portugal (June 22) boasts the best player on the planet in Cristiano Ronaldo and Germany (June 26) is a championship contender.
"It's a tough group," Klinsmann said. "We expect ourselves to do well. We have to go into the knockout stage. We have to figure out a way to do that. I don't expect us to win the World Cup but definitely we want to go far. The biggest step absolutely is the first game with Ghana. We've got to beat them."
Two months ago, Klinsmann jettisoned longtime assistant Martin Vasquez, replacing him with former U.S. international Tab Ramos and bringing in his former German national coach, Berti Vogts as an adviser.
The most controversial move came when midfielder-forward Donovan, the most celebrated player in this country's soccer history, was left off the roster.
Klinsmann, a former World Cup champion (1990) who guided Germany to a third-place finish in 2006, was brought in to boost America's team to another level. Though the United States will appear in its seventh consecutive World Cup, only five players have experience on that stage -- keeper Tim Howard, defender DaMarcus Beasley, midfielder Michael Bradley and forwards Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore. Yet Klinsmann called it an experienced roster.
"Some have a learning curve ahead of them, there's no doubt about it," he said.
Of the five German players, only midfielder Jermaine Jones, a yellow-card magnet, was a regular during qualifying. Defenders John Brooks and Fabian Johnson have played well during warm-up matches, but defender Timmy Chandler and midfielder Julian Green -- an 18-year-old on Bayern Munich's reserve team and the most puzzling selection -- have struggled.
There are many question marks: an unsettled defense, a center-back pairing that has no World Cup experience, Altidore enduring a marathon scoring slump despite two goals against Nigeria in a tuneup Saturday night, and how the team will adapt to the travel and weather conditions.
"We believe," Dempsey said. "It doesn't matter what's on paper, what people say. If we all give everything that we have and are able to show our quality, [then] we can do something great, do something special."
"I am strongly convinced this is the right way to go," Klinsmann said. "If I'm not getting the job done at the end of the day, you know the outcome of those things in the soccer world."