Clock is ticking as USA based players try to make final impressions during Mexico bout
With time running low before Jurgen Klinsmann assembles his World Cup camp in mid-May, the German head coach has called in a 22-man squad to take on arch-rivals Mexico in Phoenix, Ariz. on April 2.
As expected, the squad contains only North-American based players, from Major League Soccer and Mexico’s Liga MX, as well as 18-year-old Bayern Munich prospect Julian Green, who recently switched his allegiance from Germany.
Klinsmann got a final look at his European-based players in a tepid 2-0 loss to Ukraine in Cyprus in early March. And the bout with El Tri promises a last best chance to make an impression for those based on this side of the Atlantic. Because the next team he sees his team will be after the May 12-deadline for submitting his 30-man preliminary World Cup roster.
The preparatory camp, believed to be planned for Northern California, will be bookended by a friendly with Azerbaijan in San Francisco on May 27, followed by a friendly against Turkey on June 1 in Harrison, N.J. The following day, Klinsmann will have to whittle his side down to the 23 men he plans to take to a final friendly in Jacksonville, Fla. against Nigeria on June 7 and, at length, the World Cup in Brazil the following day.
"Everyone knows the clock is ticking," Klinsmann said in a statement. "So the players have a sense of urgency now."
This late in the game, the roster was fairly predictable. Most long shots seem to have been winnowed from the player pool by this point. And the recent return or retention of more than a half-dozen national teamers to MLS means that this group will be closer to the starting lineup than any European-based roster now might.
In Brad Evans, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler and DaMarcus Beasley, the entire incumbent back line is in camp, while outside candidates to start in defense Clarence Goodson and Michael Parkhurst were also called up. The team’s three biggest stars and foundational players, forwards Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey and midfielder Michael Bradley, were all brought in as well. So were midfielder Graham Zusi, a favorite to start on the right, and holding midfielder Kyle Beckerman and Eddie Johnson, who could make spot starts depending on the opponent and the form and health of regulars.
These are the players with the most to lose. Others will want to convince Klinsmann that they are worthy of one of the last open spots on the roster. Striker Chris Wondolowski has yet to truly convince against A-level opposition. Midfielder Maurice Edu needs to prove that all that bench-sitting in Europe before returning home hasn’t left him off the pace. Winger Brad Evans must demonstrate that his limited skill set provides enough added value. And center back Michael Orozco has a lot of lot of competition to beat out in his position.
Behind third-string goalkeeper Nick Rimando, Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid seem to be there for the experience more than anything else. The same could be said for attacking midfielder Luis Gil and right back DeAndre Yedlin, who are both just 20 years old. It seems unlikely that either one will crack the final roster, barring a pile-up of injuries or a series calamitous crises in form.
And then there’s the curious case of Green, a forward, who has played no more than five minutes of senior club soccer in his young career but about whom there has been much ado. He is said to have talent in spades, but it seems unlikely that it will compensate for, well, how green he is. Still, he is expected to make his debut and be given a real crack at proving himself, the seemingly unspoken return for his commitment to the program.
But in Mexico, this squad faces a tougher opponent than they might like to in their final moments to shine.
"What we expect is that they show a really strong performance against a Mexican national that is now basically coming back on track," said Klinsmann of El Tri, which barely survived a disastrous qualifying campaign but has shown improvement of late. "There’s nothing better than doing that against their main rival, the United States."
And so the task is fairly straightforward for the Americans. "They need to prove now that they badly want to go to Brazil," Klinsmann said. "Therefore it’s going to be a tense couple of days. In that way, it will be a little bit different camp. It will be measured different because it’s the last game before we go into the World Cup preparations. Therefore we tell the players from day one when they come in on Sunday to step it up."
Because from that point onward, just 43 days will remain until Klinsmann has some tough choices to make.
USA’s 22-man roster vs. Mexico:
Goalkeepers: Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake).
Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes), Michael Orozco (Puebla), Michael Parkhurst (Columbus Crew), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC).
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Maurice Edu (Philadelphia Union), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City).
Forwards: Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Eddie Johnson (D.C. United), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes).