Circumstances prompted United States coach Jürgen Klinsmann to experiment with a raft of new players during the first two friendlies after the World Cup. Their contributions procured a pair of results and sparked hope for the future, but those players will now find their positions reinforced and tested by the introduction of several regulars for the date against Honduras tonight.
This clash at FAU Stadium provides Klinsmann with the opportunity to blend old and new. It is a delicate task to infuse the side with some necessary experience without overwhelming the strides made in the victory over the Czech Republic and the draw against Ecuador on Friday. The evolution of this group requires a deft hand to ensure the best for all involved parties.
“More than anything, it’s good to see that a group of young guys gets some experience and gets an opportunity to be on the field,” U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley said when asked for his thoughts on the two friendlies played without him. “It’s early on in the cycle. You’re trying to find a balance between having some consistency and some continuity and still making sure that opportunities are given to young guys and guys who deserve it. It’s important.”
This edition of Five Points explores the benefits and the pitfalls of introducing some of the perceived core players back into the fold at this juncture.
Returning players offer a lift to this young group …
Klinsmann can rely on Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones, Matt Besler and Graham Zusi to establish the proper tone and set higher standards within this squad. Their presence increases the internal expectations and restricts the latitude afforded when players fail to meet them. Their experience and their quality provides the bedrock for a group of players seeking to assume more influential roles — outcast to regular presence, reserve to starter, prospect to star — over the next few years.
“It’s big,” U.S. defender DeAndre Yedlin said. “They are obviously the core of our group. Any time you can get that kind of leadership in, you want it. It helps us younger players out. It’s really big to have them.”
In the short term, their influence might tell most notably in the performance over the course of 90 minutes. The previous two friendlies involved a bright first hour and a rather noticeable dip as the substitutions took hold. That sort of drop is less likely in this affair given the stronger options at Klinsmann’s disposal, the experimental opposition at hand and the rotation policy likely in place. It is down to the veterans to ensure it does not occur here nevertheless.
Mix Diskerud is one of a handful of players with a strong case to keep his spot in the starting XI despite the return of several influential figures.
… yet Klinsmann must figure out how to deploy them
Do not expect Klinsmann to chuck all of World Cup starters into the fray at the outset. Klinsmann will likely to try to blend his starting XI a bit more delicately to reflect the energy expended by several players in their MLS matches at the weekend and underscore the need to evolve the player pool as this new cycle commences.
This is the ideal time to see how some of his top performers over the past couple of matches react when featured alongside the seasoned campaigners. Klinsmann said he plans to use the opportunity accordingly.
“We want to continue to grow the younger generation right now,” Klinsmann said. “I spoke to a couple of the guys one-on-one last night and they understand that process could mean that here and there, they are left out. That’s fine with them. They understand that. Tomorrow, we will definitely shake it up a little bit.”
Jermaine Jones hinted he might experiment with a new position against Honduras.
Is Jermaine Jones in line for a position change?
Jones hinted at one of the potential alterations when he suggested a possible shift to his own deployment.
“Me and the coach, we were talking,” Jones said. “We have some surprises for everybody, I think. Everybody will see. We talked. Everything works out. Maybe I will get a new position.”
Jones laughed at the suggestion of a potential role up front after his goalscoring prowess with New England, but the possibility of featuring in central defense alongside Besler (or Tim Ream, depending on the situation in this friendly) could appeal to both coach and player.
The veteran midfielder, 32, said yesterday he wants to feature at least through Copa America in 2016. His quest could benefit from a spot where his distribution, his experience and his robust approach might endure the test of time a bit more favorably. This friendly against a Honduras side stripped of primary goal threats Jerry Bengtson and Carlo Costly supplies an inviting chance to test out the idea.
Michael Bradley must leave his Toronto FC frustrations behind to reinforce his place in the U.S. national team setup.
Where does Michael Bradley fit into the evolving picture?
Bradley is not a candidate for a position change, but he is a man in need of a dalliance elsewhere after the frustrations with Toronto FC this summer. This trek presents the ideal opportunity to escape from those tribulations and reinforce his enduring place as a fixture within the squad.
“He had to adjust to the environment in Toronto, instead of maybe an environment that plays Champions League football,” Klinsmann said. “He’s going through that experience now. He’s coming in now for the first time since the World Cup. He has to prove that he hasn’t lost a bit. We’ll keep working and pushing, but it’s down to him and his environment to see what level is capable of playing.”
The key for Bradley for both club and country: finding a partnership designed to bring out his best qualities without taxing him unnecessarily. It is a quest Klinsmann should aid by offering a more defined role (perhaps as a more conservative figure behind some combination of Alejandro Bedoya, Joe Corona and Mix Diskerud in a central midfield trio) and providing Bradley with the sort of effective and stable support required to push him back to his best.
Nick Rimando will receive another chance to sustain the goalkeeping debate against Honduras.
Nick Rimando takes another turn as goalkeeper rotation continues
The introduction of those veteran players increased the competition for places within the squad, but the removal of Brad Guzan handed Rimando another chance to stake his claim for more regular playing time.
Klinsmann continues to stoke this battle by splitting minutes between his top two keepers. Both players have responded encouragingly with their performances in Prague and in East Hartford. It is up to Rimando to meet those emerging standards against Honduras and prolong this debate for the foreseeable future.
“Whenever an opportunity comes like this, you have to grab it with both hands,” Rimando said. “For me, it’s about taking this opportunity and running with it. When you’re on the field, you have to be there for your team and show why you deserve to wear the crest. Goalkeeper is a different position than a field player because there’s only one player on the field in goal. If I can go out there, do what I can and prove to my teammates and Jurgen why I need to be on the field, then that’s what I’m trying to do. It starts on the training field and leads into the game.”