Some familiar faces and one brand new face headline the U.S. men’s national team roster chosen by Jurgen Klinsmann to take part in preparations for upcoming friendlies against Costa Rica and Belgium.
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German-born midfielder Fabian Johnson, who is currently starring for Bundesliga side Hoffenheim, has been called to the US team for the first time and his inclusion, along with the long-awaited return of fellow German-born player Timmy Chandler, will attract plenty of interest.
Chandler hasn’t been with the United States since his impressive debut in March, with his club team essentially forcing him to stay home rather than taking part in the CONCACAF Gold Cup as well as this month’s friendly against Mexico. He will now look to build on the impressive form he showed against Argentina and Paraguay in March.
Johnson is a complete newcomer to the US camp, a defender and midfielder who is the son of an American serviceman father (much like Chandler and recent U.S. call-ups Jermaine Jones and David Yelldell). He expressed interest in playing for the United States in a recent interview and could help solve the glaring need for a serviceable left back.
One of the interesting subplots surrounding Klinsmann’s call-ups were who did not get called in. Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones were left off the squad, with Klinsmann making a point to issue comments about why he left the two in Germany, citing their unsettled club situations and recent lack of playing time.
Bradley’s absence is especially striking because for the past four years he has been a fixture in every camp involving starters. Some conspiracy theorists will have a field day with the absence, which might have been why Klinsmann felt compelled to specifically address Bradley’s absence (along with Jones’s, and for some reason Ricardo Clark’s).
The absence of Bradley and Jones means Maurice Edu will have a real chance to impress Klinsmann. Edu has had his chances before but has often struggled to match his club form on the international level. The obvious exceptions were his turns as an impact substitute in the 2010 World Cup. Klinsmann surely saw those performances and knows Edu has the ability. Now the Rangers midfielder will have the chance to show he’s capable of being a dependable starter.
Two MLS midfielders who can also take advantage of the absences of Bradley and Jones are Kyle Beckerman and Jeff Larentowicz. Beckerman impressed Klinsmann with his outing against Mexico, while Larentowicz has long been one of the best and most underrated defensive midfielders in the league. Both players are the type of strong and smart players who can sit in front of the defense and circulate passes to the playmakers.
The forward position should draw particular interest, and not because of any surprise inclusions, but because of a subtle switch. Landon Donovan has been a midfielder with the national team for much of the last World Cup cycle and past year, but when Thursday’s roster was released he was listed among the forwards.
The subtle move seems an inevitable one, and we could be a step closer to a Donovan-Jozy Altidore forward tandem. Altidore is on a tear with Dutch club AZ Alkmaar, having scored five goals in five matches, including two goals in AZ’s Europa League romp against Norwegian side Aalesund on Thursday. Altidore has carried over the confidence and form he showed at the Gold Cup (where he scored two goals in three full matches before being sidelined by injury). Having the speedy Donovan to play off him could give Klinsmann the tandem he’s been looking for up top.
Donovan isn’t the only star who could take on a new role under Klinsmann. Clint Dempsey will get his first chance to work with the new US head coach, and the versatile Fulham star could wind up at any number of positions, from a central playmaking role to his familiar right wing spot.
Where Klinsmann really has work to do is defensively, where he will try to move closer to settling on a starting back-line. Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo are fixtures in the back, but figuring out who his left back will be and who will start in central defense remain serious questions. Fabian Johnson could be an option at left back, while Michael Orozco will try to build on a strong showing against Mexico. Clarence Goodson is back from injury to reclaim the starting role he held down at the Gold Cup.
We should learn a lot from this group, especially with tough tests against Costa Rica, and especially Belgium, awaiting. For some of these players, this could be the only chance they get to stay at or near the top of an ever-deepening talent pool, while for others, it could be the first step toward establishing themselves as fixtures in Klinsmann’s new-look US national team.