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World Cup 2014 Preview: Klinsmann's ultimate U.S. report card
(SportsNetwork.com) - Judgement day is fast-approaching for U.S. Soccer's Jurgen Klinsmann experiment.
The German mastermind was hired by U.S. Soccer in 2011 to advance the sport following a few years of stagnant results in major tournaments.
The United States broke out in a major way in the 2002 World Cup, ousting Mexico en route to a quarterfinal exit at the hands of Germany, but they took a step back in 2006 by claiming just one point from their three matches in the group stage.
The 2010 edition saw the U.S. advance from its group on the back of a last- gasp winner from Landon Donovan in the final match of the stage, but the nation crashed out in the Round of 16 in an extra-time defeat to Ghana.
It felt as if the United States had hit a plateau under the guidance of the string of domestic coaches leading the nation in previous years. U.S. Soccer decided to switch gears, opting to move away from the likes of Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley in favor of a man with a global soccer background.
Enter Klinsmann, who has a sporting resume that speaks for itself.
As a player, he won a World Cup with Germany in 1990 and a European Championship in 1996 as well as UEFA Cup titles with Inter Milan in 1991 and Bayern Munich in 1996.
Klinsmann retired in 1998 and eventually became Germany manager in 2004, rebuilding a stagnant national team and lifting the nation to a third-place finish in the 2006 World Cup.
A California resident for 16 years, Klinsmann remained deeply rooted to American culture. The 49-year-old has absorbed the American soccer landscape in all facets, a process that has strengthened his plan to develop an identity for the national team while still raising the overall level of play.
But for all of the ancillary goals behind Klinsmann's hiring, he will ultimately be judged by how his team performs in the World Cup.
He could not have been dealt a much worse hand as the U.S. was placed in Group G along with Germany, Portugal and Ghana.
Klinsmann will turn to some of the veteran leaders at his disposal as the Yanks attempt to emerge form the "Group of Death," but he will not have Donovan at his disposal as the Los Angeles Galaxy star was left off the final 23-man roster.
It was an eyebrow-raising move from Klinsmann, who clearly had his professional differences with the 32-year-old. Donovan took a four-month sabbatical from professional soccer at the conclusion of the 2012 season, and a perplexed Klinsmann noted that he would have to earn back his spot on the national team.
But despite a sublime run in last summer's Gold Cup, which the United States won, Donovan was deemed expendable from what would have been his fourth World Cup tournament.
In Donovan's absence, the United States will rely on a strong spine that could benefit the team in group play. Midfielder Michael Bradley is in the prime of his career and is arguably the country's best outfield player. Clint Dempsey, meanwhile, offers plenty of flair and versatility going forward with the ability to create and finish scoring opportunities.
The concern regarding Bradley and Dempsey is that they both recently made moves back to MLS from top European leagues. It will be interesting to see how their respective moves away from the most competitive leagues in the world impact their performances this summer.
The form of striker Jozy Altidore is also worrying. The young striker was among the top goal scorers in the Eredivisie with AZ Alkmaar a season ago, but a move to Sunderland in the summer saw the 24-year-old net just one league goal with the Black Cats. Altidore did not have a great supporting cast at the Stadium of Light, but his difficulty in finding the back of the net is still worrisome for U.S. fans.
One area of the pitch that should give U.S. fans very little concern is between the woodwork. With first-choice stopper Tim Howard and back-ups Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando, the Americans are arguably better and deeper at the goalkeeping position than any nation in the world.
The unit in front of Howard, however, remains unclear. Matt Besler figures to be an important piece following his impressive displays in intense qualifying matches. Omar Gonzalez formed a nice partnership with the Sporting Kansas City defender, but a recent knee injury in MLS play may yield an opportunity for Geoff Cameron to slot in alongside Besler at the center of defense.
The United States roster is filled out with accomplished players capable of chipping in with vital performances. Graham Zusi can provide Altidore and Dempsey with exquisite service from the flanks while Jermaine Jones can lean on his superb partnership with Bradley in the center of the park, which should aid the team's attack while providing cover to the back-four.
The Yanks are also ripe with youth as Julian Green, DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks surprisingly made the cut. Their naivete could be detrimental, but it could also be a blessing in disguise like it was for Donovan in 2002.
The players in the U.S. squad have developed a promising chemistry since Klinsmann took control, transitioning from defense to attack with never- before-seen fluidity and creativity.
Klinsmann has succeeded in developing an identity for the team, but his progress as U.S. coach ultimately will be judged on what transpires in Brazil this summer.
05/30 15:57:39 ET
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