Tip Sheet: Opportunity knocks for USA hopefuls during MLS stretch run
U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann may as well have posted a help wanted sign when he named his 22-man squad to face Czech Republic next Wednesday.
The shift from one World Cup cycle to the next always invites turnover, but the presence of just 10 players from the excursion to Brazil underscores the room for fresh figures in the national team setup ahead of the CONCACAF Gold Cup this summer.
Klinsmann highlighted the openings ahead as he named a roster including Stanford standout Jordan Morris and five other uncapped players.
"It's an especially good opportunity for us to look at the younger players based in Europe, which we don't get to do very often because of their schedules," Klinsmann said. "We can't bring them into the January camp where we get to work with a lot of the up-and-coming talent, so for players like Joe Gyau, Emerson Hyndman, Rubio Rubin and Bobby Wood, it's a great chance for them to experience our environment."
This friendly -- located in Prague smack in the middle of a FIFA window during the heart of the MLS season -- never made much sense for the top domestic players or the aspiring contenders trying to pry their way onto the roster. It is simply too much of an ask for MLS clubs to part ways with top players for one midweek friendly in Europe at this stage of the season. Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando is the only player included out of necessity, but anyone else will need to wait for a more suitable moment.
Several of those candidates will hope to see their time arrive in a pair of home friendlies in October. The affairs against Ecuador (Oct. 10 in East Hartford, Conn.) and Honduras (Oct. 14 in Boca Raton, Fla.) are not ideally suited for introductions given the MLS demands in place during that time period, but they do present a window to introduce some new faces if Klinsmann chooses to do so.
As Klinsmann noted, the January camp supplies perhaps the best chance to run the rule over sterling MLS performers and see where they might fit into the mix moving forward. Most of the emerging players will target that gathering as a chance to state their claims with the evaluation process in full swing. Their performances in the waning stages of the campaign will play a significant role in determining whether they can push their way into the frame.
The first post-World Cup roster offers plenty of encouragement for those players looking to burst onto the scene. The experimentation process is in full swing now with Klinsmann casting a wide net for potential contributors. It is now down to aspiring national team players to answer the call over the next few months.
Five Points – Week 26
1. Is Jermaine Jones ready for his MLS debut?: Jones said he wanted to feature against Toronto FC during his introductory press conference on Tuesday, though he admitted he isn't at 100 percent fitness yet. He is expected to make the trip to BMO Field with his New England teammates, but the extent of his availability remains uncertain.
2. Are injuries poised to derail Toronto FC's playoff push: Jermain Defoe (groin) joined Steven Caldwell (quadriceps) and Justin Morrow (hamstring) on the sidelines ahead of the visit from the Revolution on Saturday. TFC boasts a deeper squad than in years past, but the absence of defensive fulcrum Caldwell and established poacher Defoe for any length of time will place considerable strain on a side just three points north of the red line.
3. Will history repeat itself in Salt Lake City?: Real Salt Lake and general manager Garth Lagerwey have tabled any contract discussions until the end of the season, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. It is a sensible move for both Lagerwey and RSL with Lagerwey's contract poised to expire at the end of the season, but RSL must wonder whether Lagerwey – particularly if some club offers him the chance to serve as club president – will follow the example set by Jason Kreis last year and leave the team for a different challenge elsewhere.
4. Cascadia clash is a genuine six-pointer in the Western Conference playoff race: Vancouver can move five points clear of Portland by securing its first home victory over the Timbers on Saturday. The combination of the cushion and the extra game in hand would make the Whitecaps considerably more difficult to catch during the final eight games. The visitors must find a way to assert control in midfield to establish the tempo, subdue Vancouver on the break (no easy feat with Mauro Rosales poised to improve supply lines from the start) and take at least a point at B.C. Place to keep the margin manageable.
5. D.C. United searches for response after midweek diversion: United coach Ben Olsen rotated his squad for the 4-1 defeat at LA Galaxy on Wednesday, but he now possesses the latitude to restore his first-choice side for the home date against New York on Sunday. This group has pushed its way toward the top of the Eastern Conference through its ability to churn out results. It must continue the pattern against a Red Bulls side searching for firm footing in the tumultuous playoff chase.