WASHINGTON — When we get to the World Cup, there will be no fear.
That’s the logic behind scheduling friendlies against strong international sides like Belgium and Germany, according to US national team captain Clint Dempsey.
“We’re not where we want to be,” he admitted, “but the only way we’re going to get there is to play against top teams. These are the type of teams you’re going to see at the World Cup. And when we do qualify, we’ll be ready for it. We’re not going to be scared to play those teams.”
The USMNT will take on Germany, No. 2 in the latest FIFA rankings, at RFK Stadium on Sunday afternoon (2:30 pm ET, ESPN2, live chat on MLSsoccer.com). The Yanks fell, 4-2, to No. 15-ranked Belgium earlier this week in a performance that can only be described as uninspiring.
In the wake of that loss, US coach Jurgen Klinsmann defended the decision to play powerful opponents, telling the media in his postgame comments: “I’d rather play Belgium 10 more times than El Salvador for the 100th time, because that’s where you learn.”
What do you learn exactly? And why would the Klinsmann want to prepare for three massive World Cup qualifiers — June 7 in Jamaica, June 11 against Panama, and June 18 against Honduras — by taking on, say, Germany, who play a very different style from that of the CONCACAF nations?
“I think it’s pretty simple: because they keep you on your toes,” he said. “Speed of play, speed of thought on the field, their sharpness and their transition game, you have to be very awake.
“If you play two teams that don’t really challenge us, yeah, you might get a little confidence, maybe a couple more goals, but you have to adjust to the highest level possible. The guys take this as an opportunity to get sharper, to [ask themselves]: ‘Where is my limit?’”
The current German squad is missing such stars as Real Madrid’s Mesut Özil and Bayern Munich’s Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Müller. But there is plenty of talent capable of keeping any team on its toes, including Lazio forward Miroslav Klose, Arsenal midfielder Lukas Podolski, and Bayer Leverkusen winger Lars Bender.
And although Dempsey sees a match against Germany as preparation for the World Cup — should the US qualify — Klinsmann hopes Sunday will prepare his side for the crucial trip to Jamaica later this week.
“I think if you bring yourself up to the highest level, to a higher tension, then you are better prepared,” he said. “If you play simple easy games and suddenly you have to bring it all up and things get hectic, or things get a bit rough, down in Jamaica, you might have a problem.”