Charles Boehm is covering the USMNT and the World Cup for Gothamist from Brazil for the duration of the tournament. He has covered MLS and the American soccer scene since 2004, contributing to, The Soccer Wire, and

RECIFE, Brazil - Full disclosure: The meat of this article has been written before, by this writer as well as several other journalists, at several other junctures in the Jurgen Klinsmann era of the U.S. Men's National Team.

That's because we've seen this before.

Klinsmann was brought on board by U.S. Soccer three years ago to transform the USMNT and take it to new heights in international play. His pedigree, reputation and deep knowledge of both American and European methods was seen as the best way to leap the program forward and complete a long-sought climb into the global elite.

Heady buzzwords like “proactive,” “possession-based” and “next level” have been tossed about a great deal by both Klinsmann and his boss, federation president Sunil Gulati. And there has indeed been notable progress in terms of the team's technical abilities, its recruitment of dual nationals and the size and fervency of fan support.

But the USMNT has survived the 2014 World Cup's Group G, its supposed “Group of Death,” to book a round-of-16 clash with Belgium in Salvador on Tuesday by leaning on some very familiar, well-established characteristics that predate Klinsmann by years, arguably even decades.

The US last faced Round of 16 opponents Belgium in May 2013, losing 4-2 in Cleveland. (photo: Erik Drost)

“We should have created a bit more chances. That’s really something we have to improve on,” said Klinsmann on Thursday after the U.S. were defeated 1-0 by Germany at Arena Pernambuco, but advanced nonetheless as Portugal defeated Ghana in Brasilia.

“But overall, tremendous energy, tremendous effort from the whole side. It’s huge for us getting out of this group that everybody said, ‘You have no chance.’ We took that chance and now we move on.”

Klinsmann's team were out-possessed, out-passed and out-shot by two of their three group-stage opponents. They were forced back into their own half for long periods of both the Ghana (a 2-1 win) and Germany games. Some would even contend that they only bossed the statistics against Portugal because the Iberians snatched an early goal that gave them the luxury of sitting in.

This is not to say that the Americans never had the ball. They did, and they showed that they know what to do with it in terms of build-up, movement and combination play. But passing virtuosity, attacking movement and match control - the ability to impose one's chosen tempo and rhythm regardless of the opponent's intentions - continue to be issues for this team at this level.

To use just one metric: Klinsmann's team has ranged from decent to good in terms of passing stats this month. Against Ghana, overall passing accuracy reached just 73 percent, dropping to 59 percent in the attacking half and 53 percent in the final third of the field. These numbers improved against Portugal, rising to 86 percent, 76 percent and 71 percent, respectively.

Obviously risks must be taken in attacking areas and aggressive, pressing opposition affects these numbers. In the Germany match the U.S. hit 83 percent overall, 74 percent in the attacking half and 58 percent in the final third as the three-time world champions closed down space and harried the Americans when defending, then stretched the field and made them chase when it changed possession again.

“Germany did a great job when the ball turned over - they put a lot of numbers to the ball,” said U.S. center back Matt Besler. “Maybe heavy legs, maybe the conditions - I would say that's the one thing we're disappointed in, is how we didn't keep the ball. But everything else, the way that we battled, the way we did create a couple of dangerous chances, the way that we defended, it's great. We're moving on.”

Klinsmann's advertisements for a bolder, more technical character have not quite come to fulfillment, not yet. But the old Yankee attributes of grit, guts and work rate remain. So he has wisely made the most of the doggedness and spirit that have enabled the most talented editions of youth and senior national teams to keep pace with the big dogs of world soccer over the past 10 to 15 years.

The USMNT, after all, have been here before, most pertinently in 2002 and 2010. Those tournament runs ended in a quarterfinal defeat to Germany and a round-of-16 undoing to Ghana, respectively, two games that showed the scant margins for individual errors and flawed game plans - and yes, the importance of good fortune - in the business end of this competition.

“We believe in ourselves and always believed that we could get out of this group if we played well,” said captain Clint Dempsey on Thursday. “I thought we put in a lot of work, showed a lot of character, even at times when weren’t playing the best ball.

“I thought we played really well last game [vs. Portugal]. This game they had most of the possession. We were trying to keep shape, trying to do a better job, when we got the ball, to catch them on the counter and try to be a little bit better in the attacking third with our final passes. We just weren’t as sharp as we needed to be to get a goal today.”

Belief. Work. Character. Those are the hallmarks of the “American style,” if there truly is such a thing yet, on the global stage. But they're unlikely to be enough on their own to overcome the superlative talent on opposing roster sheets in the World Cup knockout stages.

Exhibit A: Should the U.S. overcome Belgium, Lionel Messi and Argentina will likely be their quarterfinal matchup.

By Charles Boehm