Klinsmann faces tough decisions ahead of World Cup
With the March 5 United States men's national team friendly against Ukraine now moved from Kharkiv to Larnaca, Cyprus because of political tensions, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann released his squad for the game on Thursday.
The match-up against the Euro 2012 co-hosts, who narrowly missed out on a World Cup spot themselves in a late collapse against France during the qualifying play-offs, constitutes an open tryout of sorts. This is the last international window before Klinsmann is to assemble his World Cup camp in mid-May, meaning he will have no other chance to get a look at his foreign-based players until then.
And so the German head coach has called in a squad made up almost entirely of European-based players, many of whom are on the bubble for a spot in Brazil this summer, or indeed on the outside looking in. Only Toronto FC's Michael Bradley, the Seattle Sounders' Clint Dempsey and Edgar Castillo of Tijuana - none of whom participated in last month's traditional January camp for Major League Soccer-based national teamers - were brought in from MLS and Liga MX. Julian Green, the Florida-born Bayern Munich prospect who isnât yet eligible to play for his birth country and has represented Germany at the youth level, will practice with the team.
The team will assemble in Frankfurt, Germany, on March 2 for two days of training before traveling to Cyprus. "It's difficult for us coaches to prepare everything for this summer's World Cup only having this game on March 5 before going into preparation camp," Klinsmann said in a statement. "It's very little time to work with the players. Therefore, for the European-based players, in these three or four days we are together and the game against Ukraine, itâs even more important they have a good showing."
There are many who have a case to make. Among the goalkeepers, Cody Cropper will hope to leave the impression that he might make for a better third-stringer than the well-established Nick Rimando behind the unmovable incumbent Tim Howard and long-time backup Brad Guzan.
Of the defenders called in, only Geoff Cameron seems a lock for Brazil, owing to his increased minutes at right back for Stoke City and his ability to play centrally in defense and midfield as well. Castillo has yet to prove that he is sufficiently reliable at left back. John Brooks seems to lack the experience and seasoning but is a major talent. Tim Ream has re-entered the picture since becoming a regular at Bolton again and hopes to have expelled the mental lapses from his game. Minutes are still somewhat elusive for the journeyman veteran Oguchi Onyewu, but he has started games at two World Cups, possibly giving him an edge over the younger challengers, should he prove himself sufficiently fit. Alfredo Morales, who can also play in midfield, is fairly new to the program, while Will Packwood has never made an appearance.
The corps of midfielders knows far fewer unknowns. Bradley and Jermaine Jones are the absolutes as the central midfielders and will start this summer. Fabian Johnson has started at left back and on the left wing but hasn't secured a long-term starting assignment in either. Alejandro Bedoya and Brek Shea hope for jobs as backups on the wings. Bedoya, a regular under Klinsmann's predecessor Bob Bradley, is thriving at Nantes and squarely back in the picture now. Shea is a Klinsmann favorite for his assertiveness on the field, but he has been stupefyingly mercurial in the past. Mix Diskerud looks like a good bet to back up Dempsey as the withdrawn forward, while he can also drop back and spell Bradley and Jones. That may give him an edge over central midfielder Sacha Kljestan, a veteran who has never quite made his mark under Klinsmann. Danny Williams is also in the running for that backup job, now that he is playing again for Reading.
Up front, Jozy Altidore and Dempsey are the preferred pairing as the advanced and deep forwards, respectively. Aron Johannsson has been so convincing in his six US appearances with his ever-threatening runs at the box that he is the front-runner for a job off the bench. Juan Agudelo and Terrence Boyd, young strikers with oodles of potential but skill sets that need more polish yet, will get their last chance to show that they are less raw than ready.
As ever, Klinsmann says that he'll assess his players both on the field and off in the holistic method view he has always taken in his 2½ years in charge. "We want to see them perform on the field, but also, over four days, we have time to sit down with them for a cup of coffee and discuss their individual situations," Klinsmann said, without elaborating if he intends to consume 24 cups of coffee in just 96 hours.
"It's a huge opportunity for all those guys to prove to us that they are eager and hungry to jump on the train to the World Cup," added Klinsmann.
The USA's pack of passengers may seem unwieldy now, but once this camp is over, Klinsmann's traveling party will count far fewer passengers.
Goalkeepers: Cody Cropper (Southampton), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton)
Defenders: John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt), Oguchi Onyewu (Sheffield Wednesday), Will Packwood (Birmingham City), Tim Ream (Bolton Wanderers)
Forwards: Juan Agudelo (Utrecht), Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar)