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World Cup Group G's club talent gap remains wide for USA, Klinsmann

Photo: Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

Jermaine Jones is one of just two U.S. World Cup players to participate in last season's Champions League campaign.

SÃO PAULO — When the U.S. kicks off its World Cup on Monday against Ghana, the Americans will be in a familiar position: Competing on the biggest stage against teams whose players have more far impressive club resumes. That’s hardly a death knell for the U.S., which has a history of being better than the sum of its parts, but the facts are the facts: If you line up the U.S. players against their opponents, the Americans’ club teams don’t have the same prestige.

Just ask the question: How many players each team in the U.S.’s group competed in the group stage or knockout stage of last season’s UEFA Champions League?

For the U.S., just two of the team’s 23 players fit that description: Jermaine Jones (who played for Schalke before going on loan to Besiktas in January) and Julian Green (who got a cup of coffee at the end of one of Bayern Munich’s UCL games).

For comparison’s sake, Ghana has five players who played in Champions League last season; Portugal has eight; and Germany has a whopping 18 of its 23 players fitting that description (see list of players below).

For U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, the goal is to find ways to narrow that talent gap, both in the short term (this tournament) and in the long term (by getting more U.S. players into positions where they could play in Champions League).

Meet the 23: Jermaine Jones

Meet Jermaine Jones, midfielder for the United States Men's National Team.

As Klinsmann said this past week, “Our goal is to get as many players as possible one day into the Champions League, because on a club level that’s where you want to be, so that they have the confidence and experience to face these players from the biggest clubs in the world [at the World Cup].”

“I think we have very special players … that can make it to that level,” he went on. “But right now the statistics prove we’re not there yet. So hopefully [this World Cup] is now the stage for our players to prove that they’re ready for the next level—or another two levels—in their careers. There’s no better showcase than a World Cup.”

STRAUS: U.S. players taking note of tight World Cup officiating

How does the U.S. traditionally make up for its club resumes when competing at the World Cup? First off, by being in great physical condition. The U.S. usually has more in its tank at the end of games, and it shows, especially when the conditions are hot and humid (as they will be at games in Manaus, Natal and Recife). Second, by having a good team spirit. The U.S. rarely has divas. And third, by handling World Cup obstacles with poise. How would Portugal, for example, handle losing its first game against Germany in this tournament? Mental meltdowns are always possible, and the U.S. has largely prevented those in the past.

The proof is what happens on the field, though, when nobody is checking which club you play for. For the U.S. it all starts on Monday in Natal.

Here’s a list of the players in the U.S.’s World Cup group that played in the group stage or beyond of the UEFA Champions League last season:

GERMANY

Jérôme Boateng

Bayern Munich

Erik Durm

Borussia Dortmund

Julian Draxler

Schalke

Mario Götze 

Bayern Munich
Kevin Grosskreutz

Borussia Dortmund

Benedikt Höwedes

Schalke

Mats Hummels 

Borussia Dortmund

Sami Khedira

Real Madrid

Toni Kroos 

Bayern Munich

Philipp Lahm

Bayern Munich

Per Mertesacker

Arsenal

Thomas Müller

Bayern Munich
Manuel Neuer

Bayern Munich

Mesut Özil

Arsenal

Lukas Podolski

Arsenal

André Schürrle

Chelsea

Bastian Schweinsteiger

Bayern Munich
Roman Weidenfeller

Borussia Dortmund

PORTUGAL

André Almeida

Benfica

Ruben Amorim

Benfica

Fábio Coentrão

Real Madrid

Nani

Manchester United

Luis Neto

Zenit

Pepe

Real Madrid

Cristiano Ronaldo

Real Madrid

Varela

Porto

GHANA


Kwadwo Asamoah

Juventus

André Ayew

Marseille

Kevin-Prince Boateng

Schalke

Michael Essien

AC Milan

Sulley Muntari

AC Milan

USA

Julian Green

Bayern Munich

Jermaine Jones

Schalke

Additional research by Zach Dixon.

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