SAO PAULO, Brazil — A few minutes before kickoff Thursday, when the U.S. and German national soccer teams line up inside Recife’s Arena Pernambuco for their critical World Cup match, American midfielder Jermaine Jones will close his eyes and, like four teammates and his coach, absorb the hymns of both “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “Deutschlandlied.”
“I always say I am proud of both countries,” Jones said Tuesday.
He will let the sounds and emotions wash over him.
And then, “I try to make my game.”
Jones, 32, will try to help defeat, or at least tie, the nation of his birth, a country that nurtured his soccer development, served as the platform for the majority of his career and awarded him with three national team appearances.
Born in Frankfurt to an American serviceman and a German mother, Jones is a dual national. As a child, he lived in Mississippi and Illinois but was primarily raised by his mother in Germany.
In 2008, he played for the three-time world champions in friendlies against Austria, Belarus and England. Because he never appeared in major competition, such as a World Cup qualifier or European Championship, Jones retained U.S. eligibility.
He could have stuck it out with Germany; he remained in the senior player pool even after being one of the final cuts ahead of the 2008 Euro tournament. But the opportunity to play for the United States also tugged at his heart. He also recognized his best hope to play regularly at the international level — and perhaps start in a World Cup — would come with the United States, which lacks Germany’s roster depth.
In 2009, FIFA granted his request to switch affiliations. Because of injuries, Jones was never in the mix for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. He was fully integrated into the squad in 2011 under then-Coach Bob Bradley and, after Bradley’s dismissal that summer, became a cornerstone in Jurgen Klinsmann’s three-year project leading to the Brazilian-hosted World Cup.
With a victory or draw, the Americans will advance to the round of 16. With a loss, their future would hinge on the outcome of Group G’s other game, Portugal vs. Ghana.
Beyond the tangible contributions, Jones has delivered grit and gusto, traits that have defined his career.
“He does all the little things,” said Kyle Beckerman, who, in the Portugal game, partnered with Jones in support of Michael Bradley as part of a triangle configuration in central midfield.
Jones has also performed with discipline and composure, refraining from the overzealous tackles that have checkered his pro tenure.
“His style of play is different but it’s something we need as a team,” wide midfielder Graham Zusi said. “He is kind of that workhorse guy who is not afraid to get into a tackle.”
Now, he is preparing to face his homeland, to play against old friends and to prove his worth on the international stage — one German Coach Joachim Loew did not feel he was equipped to handle six years ago.
“I grew up in Germany, and they gave me a lot. There was my first step, and I played there my first games and my first leagues,” Jones said. “I played for Germany. I don’t say bad things about Germany.”
While retaining German identity, he has embraced his American side. Among the variety of tattoos decorating his body are stars and stripes encased by a larger star on his left knee. He purchased a house in the Los Angeles area, where he and his wife Sarah, Miss Germany in 2005, plan to raise five children.
“Of course, Germany is a special game, but I try to win this game,” he said. “I grew up in Germany, my mom is German, but I try to win and try to bring America to the next round.”
Defenders Timmy Chandler, Fabian Johnson and John Brooks, as well as midfielder Julian Green, also chose the United States over Germany. All were developed in German youth systems and have lived in Europe most of their lives. Klinsmann is German, as well.
Jones launched his career with Eintracht Frankfurt and moved to Bayer Leverkusen and back to Eintracht before enjoying seven years with Bundesliga side Schalke. He has also had loan spells with Blackburn Rovers in England and Besiktas in Turkey this past spring.
Jones might never have played for the United States, had Loew selected him for the 2008 Euro squad, which lost to Spain in the final, 1-0.
“It’s always hard when you are so close to go to a big tournament and you feel you are in that team,” said Jones, who played against Germany last summer, a 4-3 U.S. victory in a friendly in Washington.
“You can say I was upset, but I have a nice family so I was okay after two, three days. I was there at the  final [in Vienna] when Germany played in the final. I pull for Germany to win that.
“Everything happened for a reason, so now I play for the United States. I have a lot of [international appearances] and I am happy to play in this World Cup.”
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