NEW YORK: Since returning to the World Cup in 1990 after a 40-year absence, the United States has alternated group-stage elimination with advancement to the knockout round.
Ghana finished off the Americans in the first round in 2006, then four years ago beat them in extra time in the round of 16.
This year, the Americans open the tournament against the same team before playing Portugal and Germany in what appears to be one of the most difficult groups.
“I don’t feel we’re going to Brazil as any type of an underdog,” United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann said during the team’s California training camp. “I feel like that we’re going to be from Day One incredibly competitive. And I think the players, they feel that.”
A former star forward from Germany who won the 1990 World Cup and the 1996 European Championship, Klinsmann moved to California after he retired as a player in 1998.
While he coached Germany to the World Cup semifinals in 2006, he long was viewed as a U.S. coach in waiting, and he took over three years ago from Bob Bradley.
Klinsmann led the Americans to the title in last year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup and the team’s seventh consecutive World Cup berth. He made the controversial decision to cut 32-year-old Landon Donovan, the American career leader in goals (57) and assists (58).
“I’m not angry. I’m disappointed,” said Donovan, who had five goals in three previous World Cups. “I’ve spent most of my adult life and the majority of my life in general dedicating myself to this sport and this country and representing my country, and so I was really looking forward to the opportunity to play in another World Cup and to help this team. Having been in camp for 10 days, I really thought I was going to contribute in a real big way, probably bigger than I had expected going in.”
Defender Carlos Bocanegra was dropped in early 2013, and 31-year-old Clint Dempsey replaced him as captain.
“The confidence seems to be growing,” Dempsey said. “The quality seems to be getting better. There’s more competition for spots. They just keep pushing us even more to get better and better.”
Tim Howard returns from 2010 as the No. 1 goalkeeper and has the experience of eight seasons as a Premier League starter with Everton.
Fabian Johnson appears to be the favorite to start at right back, with Matt Besler and Stoke’s Geoff Cameron in the center, a pairing seen just once before the Americans’ final three World Cup warm-ups. DaMarcus Beasley, hoping to play in his fourth World Cup, was the top candidate on the left.
Michael Bradley, son of former coach Bob Bradley, has become the center of the team in a midfield role. Bradley and Dempsey sparked a return of players to MLS, with Bradley leaving Roma for Toronto after Dempsey’s surprising decision to exit Tottenham for Seattle.
“I wasn’t sure how ready I was going to be for World Cup not playing very much at Roma. That’s a big reason why I’m here,” Bradley said.
He’s paired in the midfield with Jermaine Jones, who left Schalke in January for Besiktas. Kansas City’s Graham Zusi and Nantes’ Alejandro Bedoya head the wide midfield options, with Dempsey and Jozy Altidore up front. Altidore scored only two goals in 38 appearances this year for Sunderland.
The best track to the knockout phase appears to be a win against Ghana and hoping Germany wins its first two matches and starts its second string in the group-stage finale. Even with the difficult draw, the Americans are confident.
“This is what the World Cup’s all about,” Altidore said. “You go there to play against the best and try to show yourself. I think the boys will be excited, will be up for it.”