SAO PAULO -- If Jurgen Klinsmann is planning on using the same system in the Americans' pivotal Group G opener against Ghana that he did in their final tune-up against Nigeria, his players appear fully on board.
The U.S. coach trotted our yet another new formation in last week's 2-1 friendly win, a more defensive set that was characterized by the presence of five midfielders with stay-at-home destroyer Kyle Beckerman stationed in front of the back four. And it worked, giving the Yanks a balance between plugging holes and attacking with numbers rarely seen in Klinsmann's almost three years at the helm.
Now, just five days before a game Klinsmann reiterated the importance of getting three points from on Wednesday, Beckerman -- an MLS lifer who seemed destined to serve as Jermaine Jones' backup here -- appears to be a shoo-in for the curtain-raiser Monday in Natal, Brazil.
"He's one of those guys that the more you play with him, the more you appreciate his game," winger Brad Davis told reporters after the U.S. practiced at Sao Paulo FC's sprawling, pristine training facility. "He plays that No. 6 role very well, and he's allowed the likes for Jermaine to be a little bit more attack-minded and free-flowing."
That would be Jermaine Jones, a rugged hard-tackler himself but one whose forays forward sometimes leave him in the wrong spot when the ball gets turned over. Against Nigeria, Jones played just ahead and to the left of Beckerman, with Alejandro Bedoya to Beckerman's right, while Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey took up more advanced midfield roles behind striker Jozy Altidore.
"It was a different position for me, but I like it," Jones said. "I don't have to do so much backtracking when Kyle is the guy who stays in the back. So yeah, it's easier to go forward."
For Bedoya, a more attack-minded player, the switch could mean more defensive responsibilities against powerful, dangerous Ghana. And that's just fine with him, too.
"Trying to get in front of the back four and help them out, and also be one of the first guys to be able to spread the ball out wide and start the counterattack -- I think that's part of my game," he said. "I'm a two-way player, a box-to-box player, and I have the stamina and endurance to track back as well."
In the end, though, much could depend on Beckerman. "He's one who covers others' backs," Klinsmann said Wednesday. "He's cleaning up whatever comes his way. He holds his position and that gives us another option, another card we can play, because we know he gets his job done."
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- Klinsmann made headlines on Wednesday by repeating the controversial comment he made to the New York Times in December. So what do his players think of their coach's belief that "talking about winning a World Cup right now is not realistic"?
Depends on whom you ask.
"We haven't won a World Cup before so you can't go into it saying [we will]," Altidore said. "You come here obviously with that dream in the back of your mind. At the same time, you have to be realistic and understand that there are some teams that maybe are a bit more favored than we are. Hopefully if you get closer to the end, then you start to believe a little bit more."
Midfielder Mix Diskerud, on the other hand, took Klinsmann's words as motivation. "It's an opportunity for us to prove him wrong," he said.
- Jones also made news on Wednesday when he said he wouldn't celebrate if he scored against his native Germany in the Yanks' first round finale. Has he ever been in a similar position at club level?
"The only time when I scored against my ex-team was an own goal against [Eintracht] Frankfurt," the former Schalke man said. "So no, I didn't celebrate."
- Bedoya is the lone member of the current squad who was also among the final cuts in 2010, so you can hardly blame him for embracing the experience.
"It's been a lifelong dream," he said. "It's kind of surreal. I'm in Brazil, the Mecca of football, and having the World Cup here is even that much more exciting. The hype here and all over the States is incredible ... I'm very grateful."