Many fans around the world view these mid-winter friendlies as throwaway games, not worth the grass that is crushed under the cleats of these players on the fringe. This is a world cup year, though and that changes everything - especially for the United States.
U.S. star Landon Donovan admits that all but a handful of spots on this summer's world cup roster are decided, but that means there is still a chance for a Cinderella or two to grab the glass slipper.
Heading into today's game in Carson, Calif., both the U.S. and South Korea are playing with largely experimental squads made up primarily from their domestic leagues. The Koreans are closing out a three-match tour, while the U.S. is wrapping up a near month-long training camp that included 12 days in Brazil.
The U.S. split two training matches against Sao Paulo F.C.'s reserves while getting a feel for what awaits them this summer. South Korea opened with a narrow win over Costa Rica but was blown out by Mexico midweek. The performance led papers back home to describe it as sloppy and lethargic.
That should put some fire in the Korean cleats, and while they might not be of the same caliber as the nations the U.S. will face in group play, they are headed to their eighth straight World Cup. Even with most of their starters away, the Koreans play a technical game with high pressure. That is exactly the test that Klinsmann wants his side to face, thinking quickly, anticipating and playing through the pressure rather than succumbing to it. He wants the U.S. to become accustomed to the speed of play at this level, not just the physical speed but the mental speed, as well.
When the names of Germany, Ghana and Portugal were drawn alongside the United States to create 2014's Group of Death, it likely eliminated some options that Klinsmann was considering. An easy draw might have opened the door wider for a younger player to come along for the ride or an older player to hang around for his leadership. However, the reality of the draw means Klinsmann will need a chess-like grandmaster plan to account for the tiniest variables that could make the difference between advancement and an early flight home.
Ghana's Juventus-based star Kwadwo Asamoah predicted the opening match against the U.S. would be a war. While some might argue the use of the analogy, it is not far off...