No matter what happens Tuesday against Belgium, the U.S. national team, for once, does not look like a leery lightweight in this World Cup.

That's something. That's actually an enormous thing on the global football level, I'm pretty sure.

And it's not because the U.S. has a Messi or Neymar or Ronaldo or (thank goodness) Suarez on this team, of course, because this country has never produced that kind of cosmic soccer superstar.

But the U.S. has a Klinsmann, and that makes almost all the difference.

Jurgen Klinsmann is German, he doesn't score goals or save them, he has a cagey, mysterious stubbornness, and the most eye-catching thing he did was to send away Landon Donovan, America's most accomplished and famous player.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JUNE 28:  Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann of the United States watches over drills during training at Sao Paulo FC on June 28, 2014 in Sao
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JUNE 28: Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann of the United States watches over drills during training at Sao Paulo FC on June 28, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) ( Kevin C. Cox )

No doubt, there were a lot of ways this all could've blown up on the U.S. coach.

And yet: The team journeyed through the Brazilian topography and the "Group of Death" and into this Round of 16 game.

So, as we all scramble about to quantify what this tournament and this game might or might not do for soccer in America, I don't think we can underestimate the Klinsmann Effect.

He clearly belongs on the big stage, and because he's the U.S. coach, the U.S. seems to belong there, too, in a way it very probably didn't when it was led by Bob Bradley, Bruce Arena or Steve Sampson.

I've always thought that, to make permanent inroads to the heart of this sports nation, American soccer needed a panoramic, ultra-dynamic personality.


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Americans love and can fully embrace someone who acts like a winner, talks like a winner ... and who wins.

It wasn't going to be Donovan, not this time. Klinsmann made it ... about Klinsmann, and it is working. He's the American centerpiece, he's the frontman, he's the man of every U.S. match, and American sports fans can't help but buy into this.

Even if he speaks with a German accent.

Yes, Klinsmann is U.S. soccer's first truly Machiavellian, swaggering, winking Cool Hand.

SALVADOR, BRAZIL - JUNE 30:  Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann of the United States speaks to the media during a press conference at Arena Fonte Nova on June 30,
SALVADOR, BRAZIL - JUNE 30: Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann of the United States speaks to the media during a press conference at Arena Fonte Nova on June 30, 2014 in Salvador, Brazil. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) ( Kevin C. Cox )

"We cannot win this World Cup because we are not at that level yet," Klinsmann told the New York Times in December, in a story that was published right before the Cup started.

Perfect! You thought he was being unnecessarily dour? Then you missed the motivational point, and he wanted you to see that you missed the point.

Really, Klinsmann is doing what Jim Harbaugh did and is doing for the 49ers, what Phil Jackson has done on every stop, what the smartest, most confident and most charismatic guys do on the largest stages.

Klinsmann has happily and heartily made himself the focus, put the pressure on his own shoulders, and brought his players in behind him.

He hasn't done it with bombast but with a subtler set of moves and gestures that all communicate a single message:

Don't worry, I've got this figured out.

It might not all coalesce Tuesday. The U.S. might lose. The Americans probably are not as talented as Belgium.

But Klinsmann is signed through the next World Cup cycle, and that further punctuates his hold over this team.

Not all -- or many -- American sports fans can fully grasp the strategic intricacies of the 4-4-2 vs. the 4-2-3-1 formation.

But we can all see the tough and talented German-Americans -- Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler, Julian Green and John Brooks -- that Klinsmann has collected for this team.

Some, such as Jones and Johnson, are in major roles now; some, such as the 19-year-old Green, are being nurtured for 2018.

Fully eight of the 23 players Klinsmann picked for this team are 25 or younger, and that all points to the future.

There will be a broad connection from this Cup run to the next run, because Klinsmann has created one.

But he's still playing Machiavelli in this one, of course.

On Monday in Brazil, Klinsmann questioned the selection of Algerian Djamel Haimoudi as the referee in Tuesday's game, noting that Algeria was in same group as Belgium and that Haimoudi speaks French, as do the Belgians.

Out of nowhere. Strange. Almost certainly unnecessary. So ... What was Klinsmann's point?

The point was utterly Harbaugh-ian: You have to try to figure out what Klinsmann means, because you always know it means something; and that effort alone already gives him an edge.

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JUNE 28:  Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann of the United States watches over drills during training at Sao Paulo FC on June 28, 2014 in Sao
SAO PAULO, BRAZIL - JUNE 28: Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann of the United States watches over drills during training at Sao Paulo FC on June 28, 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) ( Kevin C. Cox )

Oh, I know that Klinsmann is friendly with Seattle's Pete Carroll going back to Carroll's days at USC; yes, Klinsmann is based in Southern California.

But Klinsmann is known to have studied top coaches from all sports; he's too savvy not to soak up everything.

And he unquestionably has some Harbaugh in him -- or maybe Harbaugh has some Klinsmann in him, either way:

The chip on the shoulder, the ability to unify their players, the compulsion to put themselves into the middle of everything and the confidence that they will succeed when it's over ...

The biggest coaches make their teams bigger, and Klinsmann is the biggest thing American soccer has ever had, whether this Cup run lasts another day or another few monumental weeks.

Read Tim Kawakami's Talking Points blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami. Contact him at tkawakami@mercurynews.com.