This summer in Brazil, Jurgen Klinsmann will be the first foreign manager to lead the United States at a World Cup since 1994. After coming under fire early in his career for lackluster play, most notably documented in Sporting News’ now infamous article, Klinsmann led USA to one of their best years ever with a 16-4-3 record in 2013. They also finished on top of their World Cup qualifying group, and beat both Germany and Bosnia and Herzegovina in friendlies. The former striker won the World Cup with West Germany in 1990 and coached an unfancied German squad to a third place finish in the 2006 World Cup. He is constantly pushing his players to challenge themselves and step out of their comfort zone, and the players can’t really argue because Klinsmann has a World Cup winner’s medal, and they don’t.
In the past USA has been known for bunkering in and hoping to spring either Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey on the counterattack, however Klinsmann has tried to change this since he took over in 2011. Initially favoring a high-pressing, possession-heavy approach but with little end result, Klinsmann has slowly adapted his vision to suit the players at his disposal and reintroduce a little more counter-attacking. The USA spent most of qualifying playing in a 4-2-3-1 formation that tried to build out of the back, but their three most recent two games featured a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield and attacking fullbacks.
With players such as Tony Meola, Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel, goalkeeping has traditionally been a strength for the Stars and Stripes. This year, and the past eight years, have been no different with Everton’s Tim Howard between the pipes.
The former Manchester United man didn’t have the strongest World Cup in 2010 possibly due to a rib injury that he sustained in the opening game against England, but he is currently in great form after helping Everton finish fifth in the English Premier League this year.
Though he is 27-years-old and has just 17 caps, Besler is a steady player in a USMNT backline that has delivered more questions than answers.
The Sporting Kansas City man answered a trial-by-fire call when he started against Mexico in Estadio Azteca and helped procure a 0-0 draw in his first World Cup qualifying start. The former Notre Dame player hasn’t looked back since, starting every important game for USA after his performance in Mexico City.
He’ll be partnered by Geoff Cameron, who has been preferred in central defense to Omar Gonzalez for the last three games.
Everything on the team runs through central midfielder Michael Bradley who is the most intelligent player on the team. The Toronto FC player is adept at receiving the ball and maintaining possession and choosing the right opportunities to play balls over the top to spring other players for chances.
With 12 international goals, including a game-tying goal against Slovenia in the 2010 World Cup, Bradley is able to find space near the top of the box when his opposite number expects it the least. Bradley is considered by many to be the most important player on the team.
While Sunderland’s Jozy Altidore will likely be USA’s first-choice striker, the team’s most likely goalscorer is team captain Clint Dempsey. The attacking midfielder led the team with eight goals in World Cup qualification, tied for sixth overall in CONCACAF.
Dempsey is capable of scoring in any way-with his left foot, right foot or head. He has scored in every single World Cup, CONCACAF Gold Cup and Confederations Cup that he has played in.
After three years of chopping and changing, Klinsmann finally settled on a backline of (from right to left) Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler and DaMarcus Beasley, most likely with Kyle Beckerman sitting in front to screen. US fans will have to hope that the three warm-up games plus a LOT of work in practice as enough for them to form a cohesive unit.
In a story that made international headlines and provoked negative reactions from fans all across the country, Klinsmann left all-time leading goal scorer Landon Donovan off the roster after including him in the provisional 30-man roster.
The 32-year-old talisman reportedly showed up to LA Galaxy training camp out of shape this year and struggled to find his form in MLS, going goalless in his first seven matches of the season this year.
Klinsmann called Donovan’s omission the “toughest coaching decision” in his career, while Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl said that it would prove to be a mistake. Only time will tell if the decision is the correct one, but most USA fans are questioning it, especially with the inclusion of 18-year-old Julian Green who has yet to make a league appearance for Bayern Munich.
At the age of 32, dreadlocked midfielder Kyle Beckerman may finally get a chance to play in his first World Cup. The Real Salt Lake captain was part of the same USA U-17 as former and current World Cup players Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Oguchi Onyewu and Bobby Convey. That team finished fourth in the U-17 World Cup with Beckerman as the playmaker.
A move to MLS after the tournament saw Beckerman switch to defensive midfield, where he has been impressive ever since, making the MLS All-Star team for each of the last seven years. Beckerman looked like being backup to Jermaine Jones, but it now seems Beckerman is Klinsmann’s preferred holding mid, with Jones pushed farther forward.
USA is in the Group of Death this summer with Ghana, Portugal and Germany. While many US fans expect the team to advance, most of the rest of the world doesn’t. The first game against Ghana, the team that knocked them out of the last two World Cups, is huge in terms of making it out of Group G. Anything after the group stage is gravy.