June 25, 2014 at 1:43 am

Michigan soccer coach, players enjoying U.S. run in World Cup

From left, the United States' Tim Howard, Fabian Johnson and Matt Besler react during their 2014 FIFA World Cup Group G match against Portugal. (Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images)

Michigan soccer coach Chaka Daley is enjoying his summer these days, with one eye on the World Cup and the other on the USA Soccer Showcase in Indianapolis, at which he is recruiting.

Daley took a few minutes to field a phone call Tuesday afternoon to talk about the World Cup, saying it has been “fantastically unpredictable.”

Daley feels there is no clear-cut favorite so far, but has been impressed with how Holland has taken care of business. He pointed out that Italy and Spain are the biggest teams already sidelined.

And, Daley is proud of USA’s showing, saying “USA has put themselves in great position, almost qualifying after two games which has been unheard of in the past. It’s a pleasant surprise, encouraging for fans.

“They were very fortunate against Ghana (2-1 win), then they should have beaten Portugal (2-2 tie). They were better than Portugal in more stages of the game."

So, what does Daley expect in Thursday’s game between USA and Germany, with one of the teams possibly going home with a loss?

“Germany is the strongest team in the group and their central midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger looks healthy again (after recent knee injury), playing well during the final 20 minutes in their last game. He’s a strong performer.

"USA has to play with great passion and spirit and be optimistic just like they have been. They need great games from (goalkeeper Tim) Howard and (midfielder Michael) Bradley. They shouldn’t play defensive and sit on it. I sure don’t think it will end in a draw.”

Daley feels all eyes will be on Howard, who he feels could be starting on any team in the World Cup field.

“He’s excellent,” Daley said. “He could start on any of the other 31 national teams. He has international experience and he’s calm and intelligent. He’s a leader out there, always coaching the back four.”

And, Daley knows well one of the back four players, former Notre Dame All-American central defender Matt Besler.

“When I coached at Providence I watched Matt Besler up close and he’s a good one,” Daley said.

Daley has done a good job at Michigan after his 12 years as head coach at Providence, guiding the Wolverines to the second-round of the NCAA Tournament in his first season in 2012, and to a win over eventual national champion Indiana, then to an 8-7-3 record last year.

Michigan redshirt senior goalkeeper Adam Grinwis trained with Howard at the Complete Soccer Goalkeeper Camp in Bradenton, Fla., the previous two summers.

“Tim Howard is a fantastic goalkeeper and he’s in the same great form he was in the Premier League,” Grinwis said. “I learned a lot when I trained with him the last two years at a camp where his mentor Tim Mulqueen was also at (as camp director).

"I learned a lot from Tim, from just how he moved and made saves. It was unbelievable. He's one of the best goalkeepers in the world and he’s been great in the World Cup, keeping his team in games. I’ve been incredibly pleased with how they’ve played so far and they will all have to have good performances against Germany to move on. I've had a lot of fun watching it.”