The United States Soccer Federation is celebrating its 100th birthday in grand style in the nation's capital this weekend, and has welcomed a world power to help with the party. A sell-out crowd is expected at RFK Stadium – host to more US national team matches than any other venue in the country – as three-time World Cup champions Germany battle against the USMNT side led by their former coach, Jurgen Klinsmann, a few hours after USSF's annual general meeting.
Even absent several stars due to Bayern Munich's participation in the DFB-Pokal (German Cup) final on Saturday, Germany represents a fearsome opponent. Head coach Joachim Low has called in a squad of players hungry to impress and earn a place in Die Mannschaft's upcoming World Cup qualifiers and, eventually, the 2014 World Cup. The Germans are cruising towards safe passage out of UEFA Group C, where they have dropped just two points out of a possible 18 thus far.
Meanwhile, the US national team has far more work to do to book their spot in Brazil, with three pivotal CONCACAF Hexagonal matches coming up against Jamaica, Panama and Honduras. The Germany clash is the second of two high-profile warmup friendlies, with the USMNT having been blitzed 4-2 by Belgium in Cleveland on Wednesday.
Germany hold a 6-2 advantage in this matchup, which dates back to a June 13, 1993 meeting in Chicago – which U.S. Soccer cites as the first USMNT match broadcast without commercial interruption – that Germany won 4-3, paced by a Karl-Heinz Riedle hat trick and an opening goal from none other than Klinsmann himself. These teams have met twice in World Cup play, Germany comfortably beating an underachieving US side 2-0 in the group stage at France 1998 and winning again (1-0) in the quarterfinal stage of Japan/Korea 2002 – though that clash in Ulsan was a much more tightly-contested affair, where an uncalled goal-line handball by Torsten Frings lives in infamy for Yanks fans.
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UNITED STATES OUTLOOK
The US will want to show improvement on Wednesday's 4-2 loss against Belgium in both attack and defense, with questions swirling around the center back position as well as the uneven nature of the Yanks' chemistry in the attacking third. Changes are expected to the starting 11, especially given the arrival of Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson and Danny Williams from Europe on Thursday and, subsequently, the Club Tijuana contingent of Edgar Castillo and Joe Corona.
Klinsmann and his men were stung by Wednesday's humbling at the hands of Belgium and are eager to produce a better performance, although they have emphasized that the prime focus is on preparation for the Hex games, which kick off with a tricky trip to Jamaica on Friday.
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There's no escaping the significance of Sunday's match for the USMNT coach, however, given that it features the team of his homeland, which he led to a third-place finish at the 2006 World Cup, as well as a duel against Low, his former right-hand man, whose reputation has arguably eclipsed Klinsmann's since the two parted ways after their World Cup adventure. The same goes for the USA's corps of German-American players like Johnson, Williams, Terrence Boyd and Jermaine Jones.
With double the points haul of Austria, their closest pursuers in UEFA Group C, Low and co. have scant chance of losing out in their pursuit of automatic qualification for Brazil in their final four matches in September and October. Their ambitions range far wider than that, however, with legitimate hopes of competition for top honors next summer.
Peripheral members of the player pool are desperate to participate in that journey and that hunger was on display in Boca Raton, Fla. on Wednesday afternoon, as Germany ripped Ecuador apart with four goals in the first 24 minutes of what proved to be a straightforward 4-2 victory.
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Mindful of the grand occasion to which their team has been invited, huge numbers of Germany fans will be watching Sunday's broadcast back home to see whether Lukas Podolski and Sven Bender – who each grabbed a brace against Ecuador – will hit the net again. Miroslav Klose, Andre Schürrle and Kevin Großkreutz present further danger for the US as well.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
USA – Michael Bradley
If the Yanks are to have any chance of victory against their illustrious guests, Bradley will need to be at his steady, savvy best in the heart of midfield. His absence (due to participation in the Coppa Italia on Sunday) was keenly felt on Wednesday when the USA labored to build prolonged sequences of dangerous attacking possession against Belgium. He'll need to get on the ball early and often at RFK in order to coordinate and inspire his squad's forward forays – and inevitably, his energy and awareness will be called upon in defense as well.
GERMANY – Miroslav Klose
Klose, whose Lazio side edged Bradley's AS Roma in the Coppa Italia final a week ago, has been called back into Die Mannschaft after a long absence and currently stands poised to break the legendary Gerd Muller's all-time German scoring record of 67 goals. The 34-year-old striker has scored 14 goals in World Cup play, putting him one goal shy of Ronaldo's career world record, and remains a fearsome presence in opposing penalty boxes. He'll surely be keen to put his name in the record book while also building his case for a spot in the 2014 World Cup squad on Sunday.
GOALKEEPERS: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Bill Hamid (D.C. United)
DEFENDERS: DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Michael Parkhurst (Augsburg)
MIDFIELDERS: Michael Bradley (AS Roma), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Stuart Holden (Bolton), Jermaine Jones (Schalke), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim)
FORWARDS: Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Clint Dempsey (Tottenham Hotspur), Herculez Gomez (Santos), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC).
GOALKEEPERS: Rene Adler (Hamburg), Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover), Marc Andre ter-Stegen (Borussia Mönchengladbach)
DEFENDERS: Dennis Aogo (Hamburg), Marcell Jansen (Hamburg), Heiko Westermann (Hamburg), Andreas Beck (Hoffenheim), Benedikt Höwedes (Schalke 04), Per Mertesacker (Arsenal), Philipp Wollscheid (Bayer Leverkusen)
MIDFIELDERS: Sven Bender (Borussia Dortmund), Julian Draxler (Schalke 04), Roman Neustädter ( Schalke 04), Kevin Großkreutz (Borussia Dortmund), Aaron Hunt (Werder Bremen), Nicolai Müller (Mainz ), Lukas Podolski (Arsenal), Stefan Reinartz (Bayer Leverkusen), Sidney Sam (Bayer Leverkusen), Andre Schürrle (Bayer Leverkusen), Lars Bender (Bayer Leverkusen)
FORWARDS: Max Kruse (Freiburg), Miroslav Klose (Lazio)
Tip: Over 2.5