FOX Soccer Exclusive
Friendly gives Klinsmann test drive
The final match before the start of the Hexagonal provides United States coach Jürgen Klinsmann with a unique opportunity to shape his roster for the impending trip to Honduras.
Klinsmann enters Tuesday night's friendly with Canada in Houston with most of his regulars scattered throughout Europe and Mexico. Only a handful of the players available for this game at BBVA Compass Stadium will warrant a place in the squad for the trip to San Pedro Sula on Feb. 6.
Instead of focusing on the manner of the performance or the outcome of the match as he would with his first team in tow, Klinsmann will likely spend the affair trying to figure out how some of these current fringe players will help his side navigate the complex and tricky qualifying process.
As Klinsmann has said on several occasions this month, the evaluation process started from the moment these players reported for training camp in Carson, Calif. on Jan. 7. The 25-man group – now down to 23 after the injured Steven Beitashour (San Jose) and Edson Buddle (Colorado) departed – engaged in dedicated fitness training before transitioning to the tactical and technical work required to determine the candidates for one of the handful of places available in the full squad.
“You expect the guys who have been here before, like Kyle Beckerman and Graham Zusi, to pass on their experience as quickly as possible to the next group,” Klinsmann told ussoccer.com earlier this month. “They become your right hand, your communicators and your connectors. There are quite a few players who have been in with the national team who are mature enough to understand what this is all about. I want to see them take over responsibilities, and show all the other guys how serious this is.
"At the end of the day, we are going into a very difficult World Cup qualifier in Honduras that will demand everything from us. We expect those players to step it up.”
It isn't a coincidence that Klinsmann cited Beckerman and Zusi as potential examples for other players to follow. Both midfielders will likely make the trip to Central America this month. With their places in the squad relatively assured, they are expected to provide leadership for a group of primarily domestic-based players hoping to join them on the difficult excursion.
Most of the focus in this context centers around established players who can supply immediate depth instead of potential contributors ready to help the team somewhere down the line. Expect Klinsmann to name a fairly seasoned starting XI against the Canadians to sort through the options capable of featuring in certain situations against the Hondurans.
If Klinsmann does adopt that pragmatic approach to this match, then Beckerman and Zusi should form the bedrock of a lineup filled with players hoping to leave a positive impression and secure a spot on the plane.
Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City) and Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles) will attempt to strengthen their cases for inclusion given the paucity of options available in central defense. Veteran midfielders Alejandro Bedoya (unattached), Brad Davis (Houston) and Benny Feilhaber (Sporting Kansas City) will hope to impress Klinsmann enough to merit consideration for a spot on the flanks. MLS MVP Chris Wondolowski will try to partner Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA) or Eddie Johnson (Seattle) from the start and translate his prolific domestic form to the international scene.
Evaluating these players – and younger hopefuls like Will Bruin (Houston), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg) and Joshua Gatt (Molde) – could prove challenging given the inexperienced opposition for this particular exercise.
Interim coach Colin Miller named several uncapped players in his first squad as the Canadians start to plan for the future. A comprehensive 4-0 defeat to a weakened Denmark outfit in Tucson, Ariz. on Saturday reinforced the limitations of the players at Miller's disposal and underscored the defensive uncertainty within the current group. Much of the onus will fall on regulars like Terry Dunfield, Dwayne De Rosario, Dejan Jakovic, Lars Hirschfeld and Tosaint Ricketts to rally this developing squad and submit an improved performance in Houston.
Fortunately for Klinsmann and the Americans, the quality of the opposition matters far less than its ability to prepare a few players for the rigorous challenges forthcoming. If Klinsmann decides to include a handful of standouts in his deliberations for the Honduras qualifier and the remainder of the Hexagonal matches, then the entire camp – and this friendly, in particular – will have provided the proper preparation for the more difficult tasks looming over the next several months.
Kyle McCarthy writes about the beautiful game for FOX Soccer, the Boston Herald and several other publications. Follow him on Twitter @kylejmccarthy.
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