He is correct. For all the strides, though, casual observers ultimately will measure American soccer by whether the team qualifies for the World Cup and how it fares on the grandest stage. The United States has partaken in six in a row, with varying degrees of success.
The weekend jamboree comes at a critical stage in the pursuit of a seventh consecutive berth. Under Juergen Klinsmann, who set out to modernize the U.S. system, the Americans are enduring growing pains. They have won notable away friendlies (Italy and Mexico, among them) but have suffered missteps on the road to the World Cup in Brazil next summer.
“We’re trying to raise the bar, one step at a time — sometimes two steps backwards and then hopefully three in the right direction,” Klinsmann said before Saturday’s training session in front of more than 2,000 at RFK. “It’s a development that comes with some hiccups.”
With three of 10 games done, Klinsmann’s crew is third among six teams vying for three automatic berths from the CONCACAF region. (A fourth side will enter a special playoff in the fall against the Oceania winner.)
After losing in Honduras in February, the Americans (1-1-1) defeated Costa Rica in a Colorado blizzard and earned a tie in Mexico City, where they’ve never won a qualifier.
Last year they needed a comeback victory on the last day of the semifinal round to secure passage to the final stage.
“We are still trying to get there,” midfielder Clint Dempsey said. “We are not where we want to be.”
The Germany test precedes three qualifiers over 12 days: Friday at Jamaica (0-1-2), June 11 against Panama (1-0-2) in Seattle and June 18 against Honduras (1-1-1) in suburban Salt Lake City.
Preparations began poorly Wednesday with a 4-2 loss to Belgium in Cleveland, rekindling concerns about the team’s direction.
The arrival of midfielder Michael Bradley and defender Fabian Johnson bolstered Klinsmann’s roster ahead of the Germany game.
“There is definitely some urgency” with the qualifiers approaching, midfielder Graham Zusi said, “but there is an urgency to get back on the field as well to make up for some wrongs.”
Although the Germany match is non-binding, it does offer several intriguing story lines:
●Klinsmann is coaching against his birth nation for the first time. He is tied for third on Germany’s scoring charts with 47 goals and fourth in appearances (108). He played in three World Cups, raising the trophy in 1990, and was the first player to score in three European Championships.
On the club level, he starred for Stuttgart and Bayern Munich.