The US national team may have been drawn into what many pundits are considering the 2014 World Cup's Group of Death, but the Americans' presence there is part of the reason why Group G has the label.
That is the belief of veteran midfielder Landon Donovan, who spoke to Brazilian media at the US' World Cup camp in São Paulo earlier this week ahead of the team's departure following two weeks of training in the Brazilian city.
Among those topics was the difficulty of Group G, which will see the US face off against Ghana, Portugal and Germany in June. Donovan made no secrets about how challenging the group will be, but also made it clear that opposing teams will have just as difficult of time dealing with the US.
“I do agree it’s the 'Group of Death,' but the reason it’s the 'Group of Death' is also because we are in it," the 31-year-old Donovan told reporters. "In the past it would have been an easier group for Germany, Ghana or Portugal because it had us in it. Now, because we’re in it, it makes it one of the most difficult groups in the tournament.”
The US have indeed shown well under Klinsmann as of late. The team is coming off a very strong showing in 2013, posting a record-setting 16-4-3 record and topping the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tournament, but the road in Brazil is sure to test the US even further given the quality of their opponents.
First, there is Ghana, who have eliminated the US in the previous two World Cups. Then, there's 2013 Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal. Finally, a date with one of the World Cup favorites, Germay, awaits.
Donovan believes, however, that the Americans do have a chance at advancing out of the group, but the key for the three-time World Cup veteran is beating Ghana in the first group match on June 12.
“The way things go in all these tournaments from when I was 17 till now, the first game is very, very important," said Donovan. "I don’t know the percentages, but they go way up if you win your first game. And even if you get a point in the first game your percentages go way up.
"It’s important that we get off to a really good start, especially considering we have Portugal and Germany to follow that. Our goal right now is prepare and think about Ghana. Once we take care of the Ghana game, then we move on.”
If the US can exorcise their Ghanaian World Cup demons, they will be in a good position in the group as they head to the Amazon to face Ronaldo and a talented Portugal side on June 22. Donovan is well aware of Portugal's ability, especially Ronaldo's, but the American is quick to point out that the US has talented players of its own.
“Of course Cristiano is a special player and he’s going to be a challenge for us, but there will be 21 other players on the field who want to make an impact and make a difference," said Donovan. "Our job as team is to make it difficult for Cristiano to do well and then also for us to have chances to play and enjoy the game as well."
Following the game against the Portuguese is a battle with US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann's native country, Germany, in their Group G finale. That tilt will be another tough ask for the US, but Donovan is convinced that the Americans can get a result and advance to the knockout phase of the tournament.
After all, anything less will probably be considered a failure.
"Our expectations, like most teams, are to get out of the group," said Donovan. "We’re aware that we have a difficult group, but the expectation is that we can do it. We’re going to try to get out of our group just like most teams in this World Cup.
"That’s the objective, that’s the goal."