U.S. preps for 'special' Germany game
SAO PAULO -- Thursday's match against Germany was always going to be special for Jurgen Klinsmann, the U.S. coach who won the 1990 World Cup with Die Nationalmannschaft and, as its manager, led the three-time champions to the semifinals in 2006, when his native country hosted the tournament.
Eight years later he's about to face his former team on the biggest stage for the first time.
The stakes couldn't be higher.
This upstart American squad, on which Klinsmann has staked his very reputation as a top-tier coach, needs at least a tie against FIFA's No. 2-ranked squad to guarantee its spot in the second round in Brazil. The magnitude of the encounter isn't lost on the U.S. boss.
"It's something that doesn't happen every year, and probably not anymore in a lifetime," Klinsmann said Tuesday before the Yanks trained here ahead of their flight to the northeastern city of Recife, site of the decisive tilt. "It's going to be emotional, there's no doubt about it. But I also will enjoy it."
The opportunity Thursday's Group G finale represents also makes it special for his players -- Klinsmann called it "the biggest game they can ever play" -- and most especially for the five German-Americans on the 23-man U.S. roster.
Four of those players, all of them the sons of American servicemen, repped Germany at the youth level before switching allegiances to the United States. One, midfield enforcer Jermaine Jones, even played a few times for its vaunted senior side, coached by former Klinsmann assistant Joachim Low.
"Jogi Low gave me the chance to play for Germany, one of the biggest football countries in the world," Jones said Friday. "I always say that I'm proud of both countries. I grew up in Germany, I played for Germany, so I can't say bad stuff. But I am still proud too when I hear the anthem from the United States. We will try everything to win this game. We want to go there and show people that we can battle and we can beat the German team."
It won't be easy. Even a tie would be a triumph against a superpower that is also looking to book its place in the knockout stage, having settled for a point in its last match versus Ghana. Die Nationalmannschaft has never not advanced at a World Cup. Still, the goal differential Germany accrued in its 4-0, tourney-opening win over Portugal all but assures it will move on once again, even if it does lose to the U.S.
That makes a stalemate a more achievable outcome for the Yanks than usual. It's not that Klinsmann and Low would collude to make sure of the mutually beneficial result, as has been suggested. But if the score remains even beyond the second half, neither team will have an incentive to attack and risk a potentially devastating counterpunch. Early on, though, all bets are off.
"We're going to play this game to win it," Klinsmann said. "We're not made for going into a game to go for a tie. It's just not in our DNA. It's not even in the DNA of the German side -- both teams want to win the group. So we're definitely going to go in there with the approach that we want to push it and we want to go for goal."
Klinsmann has another reason to go all-in. Besides giving the Americans an easier second-round foe, victory in Recife would also provide some vindication for the U.S. coach, who was fired by Bayern Munich in 2009 after less than one season in charge.
Klinsmann believes having a roster stocked with Bundesliga experience could help him get the result he covets.
Jones, 32, has spent the majority of his career with Champions League mainstay Schalke. Another starter, Fabian Johnson, just moved to Borussia Monchengladbach -- Michael Bradley's former club -- after three seasons with Hoffenheim. Reserve defenders John Brooks (Hertha Berlin) and Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt) also call the German top flight home, while 19-year-old Julian Green is an up-and-comer with two-time defending champ Bayern.
"It's definitely an advantage that a lot of our players know the players from the German team," Klinsmann said. "They faced them in Bundesliga games, so they're a little bit more familiar with them, they can read them a little bit better than if you don't know them at all."
And, of course, it will be a reunion of sorts for the coach, too.
"I'm looking forward to seeing all of them -- not only the players, some of whom I worked with 10 years ago -- [but] the staff is pretty much the same as I left it when I stepped out in 2006.
"It's a special moment because it's [against] the team that you kind of started building, so I will give them big hugs before the game, and then leave it aside. We're going there to get the job done."
- While Klinsmann insisted that all of his players, with the exception of striker Jozy Altidore (strained left hamstring), are healthy and available against Germany, he did seem to hint that his bench could play a bigger role in the Americans' final group stage match.
"We have more players that are ready to jump into this game against Germany that maybe haven't played yet," the coach said. "It makes us feel confident because we know they can really step it up when they're asked to."
- The three games Jones played for Germany's senior squad all came in 2008, before Low named his squad for that year's European championship. Jones was among the final cuts.
"It's always hard when you're so close to go to a big tournament," Jones said Friday. "[Low] told me that I'd be part of the team, and then he skipped back and said he will change it. Of course I was upset."
- Midfielder Graham Zusi said that despite the physical and emotional toll Sunday's 2-2 tie with Portugal took on the U.S. team, he and his teammates recovered surprisingly well.
"I think our staff has done a fantastic job at getting our bodies in the best possible shape to perform," Zusi said. "It starts right after the match ends. You get your shakes in, your meals, ice baths, a little massage if you need it ... I was very happy with the way the body responded after a 24-hour period. I was feeling very fresh."
- It's no secret that the hard-tackling Jones, the Yanks' top performer through two games in Brazil -- along with Matt Besler -- hasn't always been appreciated during his almost four years with the U.S. squad. But even before his highlight-reel goal against Portugal, he noticed American fans beginning, finally, to warm up to him.
"Sometimes you feel a little bit bad," Jones said of the criticism. "I think I've shown people that I can play. The last two games gave me back the fun. I hope the people support [me] ... right now they give me happiness -- they tweet a lot, they text me."
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.