German ex-pats to light the way for Team USA in World Cup

Jun. 25, 2014 @ 08:34 PM

When Jermaine Jones stands for the national anthems of his countries Thursday night, he will soak in the moment.

Jones, like four American teammates and his coach, will be familiar with both "The Star-Spangled Banner" and the "Deutschlandlied" before the United States' World Cup game against Germany.

After playing three games in 2008 for the nation in which he grew up, Jones switched allegiance to the U.S. two years later.

"When I hear the anthem from the United States, I will close my eyes and let everything go through," the tenacious midfielder said.

And then comes the big game.

Four years of work by the U.S. come down to 90 or so minutes in the afternoon heat and possibly rain at Arena Pernambuco on the outskirts of a sprawling beach city known as the Brazilian Venice. Having squandered the chance to clinch advancement earlier this week against Portugal by allowing a stoppage-time goal in a 2-2 draw, the Americans might need at least a tie against the three-time champions to reach the knockout stage of consecutive World Cup for the first time.

The story lines are gripping:

—U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann facing the nation he helped win the 1990 World Cup title and coached to the 2006 semifinals.

—Germany coach Joachim Loew managing against Klinsmann, his former boss.

—Five German-American players with U.S. servicemen fathers and German mothers going up against a German squad filled with familiar faces from the Bundesliga.

—Fear by some the U.S. and Germany might collude on a draw, which would advance both nations while eliminating Portugal and Ghana. Both sides insist that won't happen.

—Thousands of American fans with red, white and blue gear making the trek to the Southern Hemisphere to cheer in person and millions back home tuning into games at record levels.

"The country is in a soccer fever and they're glued to the TVs when we play," midfielder Kyle Beckerman said Wednesday.

The Germans beat Portugal 4-0 and tied Ghana 2-2, leaving them with four points and a plus-four goal difference. The Americans, who defeated Ghana 2-1, have four points and a plus-one goal difference.

Ghana and Portugal, with one point each, play simultaneously in Brasilia, knowing a tie in either game would eliminate both of them. U.S. Soccer Federation officials will have a system to relay the score of the other match to the bench.

"To be able to keep that level of interest for another four, five, six and hopefully more days would be great for the sport," USSF President Sunil Gulati said. "I think for the first time in our history — recent history, I'm not going to talk about 1950 or before — our players believe they're capable of beating anyone."

He rejects the notion the dual nationals are any less American than those who came up through the U.S. youth system.

When the U.S. and Germany met for the first time in the group stage of the 1998 Cup, Klinsmann scored the second goal in a 2-0 win. The teams played four years later in the quarterfinals, when Michael Ballack's 39th-minute goal gave the Germans a 1-0 victory. The Americans still complain Scottish referee Hugh Dallas declined to call a penalty kick when Gregg Berhalter's 49th-minute shot hit the left arm of defender Torsten Frings at the goal line.

While the Germans have four off days between matches, the U.S. has only three. And teams are 0-4 after games in the steamy Amazon rainforest capital of Manaus, where the Americans played Sunday night.

"It's the biggest game of all of our lives," Beckerman said. "Any fatigue in our legs will be erased. We've got to give it everything we've got and more."

There is an outside chance the U.S. and Portugal could tie for second with four points and be even on all tiebreakers — for instance, if the Americans lose 3-0 and the Portuguese win 2-0. In that case, a drawing of lots would decide which team advances.

The teams that move on will have second-round matchups with Belgium, Russia, South Korea or Algeria. Gulati hopes for more, much more, that will help boost the growing American fan base.

"It's pretty easy to get emotional about," he said, "wanting to see this day happen. It's not The Day. That day is still to come. And that day has got a trophy involved."

GERMANY COACH DOWNPLAYS HIS TEAM'S EXTRA DAY OF REST

BY BRETT MARTEL, Associated Press

RECIFE, Brazil  — Germany coach Joachim Loew isn't sure his team's extra day of rest this week makes up for the months-long scheduling advantage his friend, Jurgen Klinsmann, has had with the U.S. team.

On the eve of Germany's last Group G match against the United States on Thursday, Loew expressed admiration for the relentless physical play the American squad has brought to its first two World Cup matches in hot, humid Brazil.

Loew also suggested the Major League Soccer schedule, which is shorter than those of European leagues and starts after the winter, helped Klinsmann get his team in exceptional physical condition for World Cup play in June.

"We have to be very well prepared, in physical terms," to play the Americans, Loew said.

Both teams are coming off 2-2 draws. Germany was held by Ghana on Saturday, while the U.S. saw a victory slip away in the last-minute of injury time against Portugal the following night.

The U.S. has "this aggressiveness that we've seen in this tournament in their two games. They're very well prepared. They're very fit," Loew said. "They might have had an advantage in that their league doesn't last 11 months. Jurgen had his team in January and they were working together since then. This is an advantage. That's why they're at an excellent physical level."

Loew's assessment doesn't necessarily apply across the U.S. squad. Of the 23 Americans Klinsmann brought to Brazil, 11 play in MLS. Most of the rest earn their living in Europe, in the same leagues as most German players. In addition, while Clint Dempsey plays for Seattle, he spent part of last winter on loan to Fulham in England.

Still, Loew sees the U.S. team's fitness as one of its overall strengths.

"Their matches really showed great involvement and pressure all the time in the game against Ghana and also against Portugal," Loew said. "You have a team with very strong technical players and this will require a lot from us."

Fortunately for Loew, he'll have a full complement of players at his disposal, despite having defender Jerome Boateng and midfielder Sami Khedira come off the field last weekend.

Boateng left after the first half with a sore left thigh, while Khedira was replaced due to a left knee problem in the 70th minute.

Loew said both were training by Monday but stopped short of confirming they, or anyone else, would be in Thursday's starting lineup.

"There's a lot of supposition about the lineup; who's going to replace whom," Loew said. "We have different solutions. We have different types of players. We have different ways of playing."

One player Loew has stuck with so far is midfielder Mesut Ozil, coming off a disappointing campaign with Arsenal. He scored five goals in 26 Premier League appearances after the English club paid a transfer fee of about $68 million to acquire him from Real Madrid. With Arsenal, Ozil plays in the midfield, from where he can spearhead attacks and distribute the ball, but Loew has placed Ozil on the right flank.

Ozil has produced one shot on goal through two games and has yet to score.

"I'm very happy with the two matches I played," Ozil said. "I still need to score goals, but I am very happy with my performance. I know what I can contribute and I'm going to show that.

"Everybody knows I'm a playmaker. That's my favorite position, but the coach decides the system," Ozil continued. "Now I'm playing on the right — I played on the right a lot in the past as well — and at this position I don't have all the freedom of a defensive midfielder, but that's not an excuse."