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Chandler sends clear message to USMNT

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Ives Galarcep

Ives Galarcep is a 14-year veteran of the American soccer beat. He created and operates the popular American soccer blog, Soccer By Ives, which was voted Best American Soccer Blog by US Soccer in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Ives was also voted Best Football Writer by SoccerLens in 2010. 
 

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Tim Chandler hasn’t said it in so many words, but by turning down an important US men’s national team call-up for the second time in two years, the German-born footballer has sent a message that sounds very much like he’s just not that interested in representing the United States.

How else should we take a second snub in as many summers from a player who, at the moment, still isn’t cap-tied to the United States? A player who is trying to trot out the “I’m tired” excuse about attending a training camp that will be filled with players who have played just as many, if not more, club games than he has.

No, Chandler isn’t doing an about-face and playing for his native country at this summer’s Euros. He’s not on their provisional list, and German head coach Joachim Loew has stated publicly that the federation has no interest in him (not that things couldn’t change in that regard).

That may not be stopping Chandler from wanting to keep his options open. He is very young, having just turned 22 in March. Chandler’s coming off an outstanding season with club team FC Nurnberg that earned him a new contract. It wouldn’t be a stretch to think that somewhere in that German-born head of his, Chandler is still holding out hope of one day wearing the German colors something he could still do since none of his eight appearances for the United States has come in an official competition.

The son of an American serviceman and German mother, Chandler has denied wanting to play for Germany in interviews he did last year, when he first tried easing the fears and winning back the affection of American fans who didn’t take too kindly to him skipping last year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. A snub that, it can be argued, cost the United States the Gold Cup title when an early injury to starting fullback Steven Cherundolo helped Mexico erase a 2-0 deficit on their way to a resounding 4-2 victory.

It was a victory earned in large part by Mexico abusing reserve fullback Jonathan Bornstein, who would never have seen the field that day if Timmy Chandler hadn’t decided to do what he insisted his club team told him to do (which was get some rest and skip the Gold Cup).

Back then there was a strong sense from some critics of then-U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley that somehow Bradley was to blame for Chandler not showing up. Critics believed that Bradley hadn’t done enough to convince the German-born player to commit and cap-tie himself to the United States.

Jurgen Klinsmann was supposed to change all that. The charismatic German star is a legend in Germany and it was widely believed that Klinsmann could convince Chandler to go all-in with the United States.

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Unfortunately for the United States, it didn’t work out that way.

Instead of working some magic, Klinsmann has found himself facing the same thing Bradley faced when dealing with Chandler; a player who is either more concerned with his club commitments than his national team commitments, or worse yet, a player who still has one eye on playing for Germany while he tries to keep the United States waiting.

“I have had long conversations with Timmy about where he is in his professional career and his commitment to playing international football,” Klinsmann said. “He has expressed his appreciation for all the opportunities we have given him, but he also feels at this point he needs to take a break.

“It’s disappointing not having him as a part of the team at this important juncture of building our team, but ultimately a player must decide what is best for him,” Klinsmann said. “The door is certainly not closed on Timmy, but in the moment we move on without him.”

Is there merit to Chandler’s need for rest? The statistics show that Chandler was among his team’s leaders in games (32 in all competitions) and minutes played. The same can be said for Jozy Altidore though, who enjoyed his own career year with Dutch side AZ Alkmaar. Altidore, who is 22 like Chandler, played nearly twice as many games in the 2011-2012 season (47) than he had in any previous season of his seven-year career (his previous high being 28 for Hull City).

Is Altidore begging out of training camp, or more importantly, World Cup qualifying matches? No. Altidore is taking a week off before joining the national team training camp in Orlando.

The same can be said about Clint Dempsey, who just played the best season of his life. There is no way Chandler’s season was more of a grind than the season 29-year-old Dempsey just had. With a potential eight-figure transfer move on the line, Dempsey has a lot more riding on this summer than Chandler. Is he looking to take a break? No. In fact, Dempsey is heading to Orlando with an injury he will be looking to recover from in camp.

That’s what playing for a national team is about. It’s about sacrifice and being there when your name is called. It’s not about playing when it’s convenient, or when a club team wants to let you.

And we’re back at the club situation again. A year ago we were told Nurnberg wanted Chandler to rest, and while his club was powerless to keep Chandler from accepting a call-up for an official tournament like the Gold Cup, he himself chose to abide by his club’s wishes. Back then, it sounded like a club bullying a young player. For Chandler to be selling the same story for a second straight year, and after another strong season in the Bundlesiga, sounds like a player hiding behind his club rather than being manipulated by it.

Fortunately for Klinsmann, the options at fullback are stronger than they have been for the United States in over a decade. Cherundolo is 34 but still playing right back at a high level. Eric Lichaj, a natural right back, just finished out the season in impressive fashion as the starting left back for Aston Villa. Fabian Johnson became a real revelation for Bundesliga side TSG Hoffenheim at left back, and Edgar Castillo is coming off a career year in Mexico with Club Tijuana.

Throw in a promising prospect like Hertha Berlin right back Alfredo Morales and a number of talented up-and-coming options in MLS like Kevin Alston and Tony Beltran, you realize just how much stronger the depth of fullback truly is for the United States.

And that’s not even including Chandler.

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Make no mistake, the United States is a better team with Chandler on the roster. If he were in camp, there is a good chance he would be a starter. But the US national team can’t sit around waiting for Chandler to finally show that he’s truly committed to playing for the United States. The national team and Klinsmann surely can’t wait around until Chandler knows for sure that Germany isn’t interested.

What Klinsmann can do is turn to other options, other young players to groom into an eventual replacement for Cherundolo. Chandler was seen as someone destined to handle one of those tasks. Now, his national team future is in doubt just as other players are emerging as new fullback options.

What Chandler needs to realize is that the calls from Klinsmann won’t keep coming. Every time he wastes a chance to play for the United States, it gives other players an opportunity. If playing for the United States really, truly matters to Chandler, then that should worry him. Yet if playing for the US isn’t quite that important, then Chandler might just want to let Klinsmann know right away.

With the World Cup just two years away, Chandler better figure things out right away. That might seem like a long time from now, but with each opportunity he passes up, and each USA snub he delivers, he alienates his teammates, his coach and the Americans who want to be his fans.

If Chandler isn’t careful, two years from now he could find himself sitting at home, a world away from Brazil, watching both the United States and Germany playing in the World Cup. He will have all the rest he needs then, but he will also have more regret than he could ever have imagined.

Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FOXSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the US National Team.

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