When Winston Churchill talked about “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” he was referring to the politics of the Soviet Union, but his words ring just as true about the USA’s football team.
This is a side that at times can look inept to the point of being laughable, yet one that can also beat Italy – in Italy. It is also one that has no clearly defined style; not least because Jurgen Klinsmann has been chopping and changing his starting line-up for almost every game. He says he wants to play a high-speed, high-pressure style, but his charges are quite clearly often playing a counter-attacking game.
Qualification may have been achieved by winning the group, although the fans were always left wondering what might happen from game to game. Klinsmann talked about watching his team develop and commented on how gratifying it was to be able to say “it’s working”. And in March’s friendly against Mexico, one could at last see what he meant.
Led by a dominating performance from midfielder Michael Bradley, his team produced a first-half performance that was as good as any produced by a senior US national team: stylish, skilful, intelligent soccer that was worthy of the two-goal lead. What a pity that it crumbled back to shapeless incoherence in the second half as Mexico tied it up at 2-2.
In Bradley and Clint Dempsey, the States have a pair of virtually world-class players. But there are problems with the supporting cast. The goalkeeping is fine as always, that’s an American strength, and Tim Howard continues the tradition. But the back four is unsettled, inexperienced and slow.
In midfield, Jermaine Jones may be a rock but he is also a huge liability and prone to violent play. Alongside Bradley, Fabian Johnson and Graham Zusi are both solid if unremarkable players. Up front, Dempsey is running into goalscoring form with perfect timing – which is handy because his likely partner, Jozy Altidore, has suddenly lost his scoring touch.
Klinsmann’s aim is to get out of a very difficult group that he calls “the worst of the worst”. He will be hoping to spring a surprise or two, but the US will need help. For progress to be made, a few miscues from Ghana, Portugal and Germany will have to replace the riddles, the enigmas and the mysteries.
Jurgen Klinsmann (Ger)
Age 49 (30.07.64). USA coach since July 2011
How he got the job
Having unsuccessfully courted Klinsmann in 2006 and 2010, US Soccer hired the German after Bob Bradley’s team were outplayed 4-2 by Mexico in the 2011 Gold Cup Final.
Past successes as a coach
Guided Germany to third place on home soil at the 2006 World Cup.
Past failures as a coach
In his second coaching stint he was fired by Bayern Munich after just eight months in charge.
Achievements as a player
A World Cup winner in 1990 and
a Euro champion in 1996 with Germany. Won UEFA Cup titles with Internazionale (1991) and Bayern Munich (1996), and also lifted the Bundesliga title (1997).
World Cup experience
Played in 1990, 1994 and 1998 World Cups, and coached Germany at the 2006 tournament.
Relationship with the media
He successfully sued German newspaper Bild-Zeitung for libel in 2006, but in the USA he has a cosy relationship with the mainstream media that largely treats him with reverence.
Relationship with the public
Popular among fans. Communicates on Facebook and Twitter, hosts open training sessions and frequently thanks fans for their support.
Style of management/coaching
A big believer in motivational techniques. He once hired a frying-pan folding, phonebook-ripping minister to inspire his players.
Notable backroom staff
Former Germany coach Berti Vogts joined as an assistant two months before the World Cup.
After the World Cup
US Soccer renewed his contract through until 2018 in December.
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake).
Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Nuremberg), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders).
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Jermaine Jones (Besiktas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City).
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes).
Group G fixtures
Jun 16 v Ghana (Natal)
Jun 22 v Portugal (Manaus)
Jun 26 v Germany (Recife)