SAO PAULO – Jermaine Jones will close his eyes, listen to the national anthems of both his nations being played consecutively, and afterward "I try to make my game.” This is not as romantic as some would like it to be. They will want him to be torn between the United States and Germany, or bitter toward the country that hadn’t enough use for him and eager to repay the one that gave him a chance to play in his first World Cup.
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Jones is German. And he is American. He is not alone in this among Thursday’s competitors. Right back Fabian Johnson also is both German and American, as are reserves Tim Chandler, John Brooks and Julian Green. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann is a German citizen and soccer legend who has lived in California for nearly two decades. And Thursday afternoon in Recife, Germany will play the United States of America in the final Group G game for both sides, with the opportunity to emerge as the No. 1 seed from the group at stake as well as advancement to the World Cup’s knockout rounds.
So all of this is supposed to invest this game with additional intrigue. Here’s the thing, though: The U.S. took care of that by failing to hold onto its one-goal advantage in the dying seconds of Sunday’s game against Portugal. For a short time in that game played essentially in the middle of the Amazon rain forest, it appeared this next game on the beach could have been about old friends and old allegiances and new roles and new possibilities. Then Silvestre Valera headed in that goal against the Americans, and suddenly this game was no longer a damn show, it was a damn fight.
“Obviously, this is a very special game coming up, Germany against the U.S. The results make it even more interesting,” Klinsmann said Tuesday morning at the team’s Sao Paulo F.C. training center. “If we wouldn’t have ended up in a tie in the last 30 seconds of the game against Portugal, it obviously would be a lot easier, but now as we set out for the game, we have to do it the hard way, the tough way and that’s what we’ve been preparing for.”
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That’s one of the few things Klinsmann said addressing the media that seemed entirely true. Certainly the U.S. team did not arrive in Brazil expecting to win its first two games of the group and be in position to advance to the round of 16 without the Germany game even mattering.
Otherwise, Klinsmann spent a lot of time trying to convince everyone it had been a good idea to return to Sao Paulo following the Portugal game instead of moving directly to Recife, which would have saved the entire U.S. soccer crew one 3½-hour flight. He also spent a moment trying to convince the Germans they already were through to the knockout stages based on their superior goal differential. Hey, it couldn’t hurt, right?
It’s hard to imagine Germany taking it easy on Klinsmann merely because he’s one of them, because he was the head coach for the 2006 World Cup who hired current coach Jogi Low as an assistant, and “the staff is pretty much the same as I left it.”
As one reporter suggested to Jones, that could be even greater incentive for an exceptional performance – because you want to beat your friends in competition.
“For this game against Germany, the whole team we say we want to play a good game,” Jones said. “It’s not the point to beat a friend or something, it’s the point to come to the next round. If we lose and the other teams lose, too, and we come to the next round – everybody’s happy. This is the point. We have to come to the next round.”
Jones has a long history with the German national team program. He played with the U-21 national team eight times and three times for the senior squad in friendlies. It appeared he would make the Germany squad for the 2008 European Championship, but he was dropped when Low released the final roster.
“It’s always hard. When you’re so close to a big tournament and you feel that you’re in that team -- at this point the coach already told me I was part of the team, and then he skipped back and said OK he will change it – of course I was, you can say, upset,” Jones said. “But I have a nice family and they catch me up. I was OK after two or three days. And I was there in the final when Germany plays against Spain, and I try everything, how you say it in English, I pull for Germany that they win it. I don’t say bad stuff about Germany.
“Everything happens for a reason. Now I play for the United States, and I’m happy to play this World Cup.”
In that sense, this game is different. Jones respects his native land enough he has said if were to score in this game he would not celebrate the goal. But this is not his first match against Germany, nor is it for Johnson or Klinsmann. They all were a part of the friendly the U.S. played last May in Washington against a weakened German team, a game the Americans won by a 4-3 final.
Klinsmann said Thursday’s game is “very special; it’s something that doesn’t happen every year, and probably not anymore in my lifetime, so you try to enjoy this moment.” What makes this any more special than last year’s meeting? This one’s in the World Cup. Precisely. So it’s bigger than a storyline, bigger than a reunion. The U.S. made it so, and now must treat it that way.