USA and Klinsmann prepare for difficult World Cup group
Since returning to the World Cup in 1990 after a 40-year absence, the United States has alternated group-stage elimination with advancement to the knockout round.
Ghana finished off the Americans in the first round in 2006, then four years ago beat them in extra time in the round of 16.
This year, the Americans open the tournament against the very same team before playing Portugal and Germany in what appears to be one of the most difficult groups.
"I'm not worried at all," United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "I'll just take it the way it is, and we're going to prepare the best way and we're going to be well prepared for the World Cup. We'll build up confidence and believe that we can get good results to get into the next round."
A former star forward from Germany who won the 1990 World Cup and the 1996 European Championship, Klinsmann moved to California with his American wife after he retired as a player in 1998. While he coached Germany to the World Cup semifinals in 2006, he long was viewed as a U.S. coach in waiting, and he took over three years ago from Bob Bradley.
Klinsmann led the Americans to the title in last year's CONCACAF Gold Cup and the team's seventh straight World Cup berth, but the core of his attacking midfield is past 30 in Landon Donovan (32) and Clint Dempsey (31), and his revamped defense with a combination of age and experience has mixed good performances with shaky ones.
"The confidence seems to be growing," said Dempsey, who replaced Carlos Bocanegra as captain. "The quality seems to be getting better. There's more competition for spots. They just keep pushing us even more to get better and better."
Tim Howard returns from 2010 as the No. 1 goalkeeper and has the experience of eight seasons as a Premier League starter with Everton.
Omar Gonzalez, a big defender who is Donovan's Los Angeles Galaxy teammate, has become a regular at center back. Klinsmann must decide whether to pair him with Geoff Cameron, who plays right back for Stoke, or Major League Soccer players such as Matt Besler or Clarence Goodson. Brad Evans is an option at right back; Fabian Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley are candidates on the left.
Beasley, like Donovan, would be appearing in his fourth World Cup.
Michael Bradley, son of former coach Bob Bradley, has become the center of the team in a defensive midfield role. Bradley and Dempsey sparked a return of players to MLS, with Bradley leaving Roma for Toronto after Dempsey's surprising decision to exit Tottenham for Seattle.
"I wasn't sure how ready I was going to be for World Cup not playing very much at Roma. That's a big reason why I'm here," Bradley said.
He's paired in deep midfield with Jermaine Jones, who left Schalke in January for Besiktas. Donovan and Kansas City's Graham Zusi head the wide midfield options, and Jozy Altidore is the leading candidate for the striker position in Klinsmann's preferred 4-2-3-1, despite scoring only two goals in his first 33 appearances this year for Sunderland.
The best track to the knockout phase appears to be a win against Ghana and hoping Germany wins its first two matches and starts its second string in the group-stage finale. Even with the difficult draw, the Americans are confident.
"This is what the World Cup's all about," Altidore said. "You go there to play against the best and try to show yourself. I think the boys will be excited, will be up for it."
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