USMNT lands in Chile to prepare for rare friendly in South America
SANTIAGO, Chile —
As the U.S. men’s national team trained in South America for the first time since the FIFA World Cup last summer, the players spotted reminders of the terrain at every turn.
Apartment buildings loomed behind the far wall of the training complex. Glittering trophies peered out through a glass window to provide motivation for the Universidad de Chile players usually found here. The towering Andes poked through the haze of a late Sunday afternoon to supervise this return to the continent.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann brought his players to Chile to open the crowded 2015 calendar with a considerable test in Rancagua on Wednesday (6:00p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports Go). The visit to Estadio El Teniente in midweek marks the first challenge of a busy year, but this trip involves more than the first meeting between the countries in four years and the first U.S. friendly on South American soil since a 2-1 victory in Coquimbo, Chile on Jan. 29, 2000. It is yet another chance to enhance the present and lay the groundwork for the future with a positive result.
"After the World Cup and after the good year we had, in the first game, it’s important that we come out with a win," U.S. midfielder Jermaine Jones said after he and his teammates completed a light training session and worked the kinks out after a lengthy journey from southern California. "We have a lot of players with experience. We need to step on the field, try to take the young players with us and play a good game."
This group spent most of the past few weeks blending the old with the new in a bid to establish the foundation required to fulfill that objective. Tottenham Hotspur defender DeAndre Yedlin joined the squad in Santiago to bolster the fullback options and reinforce the group after the strenuous opening period of this annual camp.
Most of the work accomplished in Carson, Calif. over the past fortnight built toward this engagement. The familiar base — integral figures Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Jermaine Jones all feature on a 23-man roster with nine World Cup veterans — remains to marshal the efforts, but there are also promising players rising through ranks and trying to establish themselves as regular selections.
Klinsmann started the process of rejuvenating the side in the wake of the World Cup last year. The performances and the results indicated the considerable scope of the work still ahead. The enforced absence of several European- and Mexican-based players leaves him with plenty of latitude now to integrate a mix of MLS standouts and Olympic hopefuls into the squad in a bid to freshen his options.
This entire process — including a 11-hour journey from Los Angeles to Santiago and the preparations for the friendly ahead in midweek — allows the fresh faces a chance to settle into their duties and transfer their understanding to a more practical situation. It is now up to them to force their way into the reckoning over the short- and the medium-term.
"It’s good for us to guide them and show them what it is like to play at the international level," U.S. goalkeeper Nick Rimando said. "It’s a mixed group of guys. There are some guys trying to get experience, but we’re one team when it comes to the young guys and the old guys. If they do well, then we’re going to continue to do well with the team."
The benefits extend well beyond one segment of the group with the CONCACAF Gold Cup and FIFA World Cup qualifying ahead later this year and the Copa America Centenario on tap in 2016.
Rejuvenation remains the order of the day. Many of the key figures remain firmly in place after the exertions in Brazil, but there is room for experimentation and supplementation in the buildup to the Gold Cup. This is the opportunity to give Jones more time in central defense, ponder alternatives throughout the team and tinker with a three-man defense or other formation tweaks.
Those potential variations on the normal operating procedures reflect the opportunity at hand. The existing framework provides the necessary grounding for new ideas and novel excursions. The next few days offer a chance to explore those horizons. It is now time to see what this revamped group can extract from the journey in the days and the weeks ahead.