While there have been some bumps along the way since Jurgen Klinsmann took over the U.S. Men’s National Team in July of 2011, most will admit that there has been positive progress.
There have been impressive results, like wins in Europe over Italy and Bosnia Herzegvino, both of whom are headed to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The first-ever win over Mexico at Azteca Stadium was impressive, as was a win over #2 Germany.
He has given a lot of players a chance to prove what they can do. The depth of the player pool has never been stronger. Making the final selections, meaning those who will fill the last three or four spots on the roster, will be difficult.
It will not just be those high in the “pecking order,” who are important. Those last selected must fill a specific need and be able to play more than one position.
With more than half the team that Klinsmann is likely to select playing in Europe, he has filled his January training camp with players from Major League Soccer. Mix Diskerud, whose Norwegian club is still in offseason, was the only European-based player called in for the 26-player roster for a camp in California.
Among the MLS veterans who are likely locks to make the World Cup roster, in camp are Landon Donovan, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Graham Zusi and Eddie Johnson. Four goalkeepers are in camp playing for the #3 goalkeeper spot, with Nick Rimando the likely selection.
Mike Magee, the MVP in Major League Soccer last season, scored 21 goals for the Chicago Fire. He is 29 years old, and has never made a senior national team appearance.
But not everyone in camp is a national team veteran, at least at the senior level. Young players like Luis Gil, Chris Klute, DeAndre Yedlin and Shane O’Neill may just be along for the ride to gain some experience as Klinsmann looks ahead to 2018.
In fact, nine of the 26 have yet to make a senior national team appearance at the international level. With another four-year contract extension in his pocket, Klinsmann can look forward four years down the road.
Klinsmann will likely trim that squad to 23 for a two-week trip to Brazil for training and acclamation.
Klinsmann expressed excitement to have the young players in camp with a group of veterans. He has challenged them to prove that they belong there.
“This is the opportunity now,” he said. “Prove it in the next four weeks that you should go.”
The U.S. team will travel to Sao Paulo, where the Americans are expected to have their World Cup home base. They return to complete training in Carson, and will conclude the camp with a friendly against South Korea on Feb. 1 at the StubHub Center.
The World Cup Draw
While there will be discussion on the pros and cons of the World Cup draw, Klinsmann and his players now know who they play and just as important, the order for group opposition. No time to waste thinking about what might have been had they be grouped with other teams.
No question the U.S. draw against Ghana, Portugal and Germany will be difficult, but if Klinsmann has taken the team up a notch or two, it will be the challenge they need to prove that they belong in the elite group at the world level.
Look a little deeper into the draw. The U.S. opens with Ghana, the team that has knocked them out of the last two World Cups. Ghana had to win a home-and-home series against Egypt to qualify.
Who was Egypt’s national coach? None other than former U.S. MNT coach Bob Bradley. What are the chances that he will be available to provide a scouting report?
Germany and Portugal play in their group opener. Will one or the other take three points with a win, or settle for one and a draw?
Portugal vs. the U.S. is the wildcard. A draw for the U.S. would be a positive result. Anything more would be a huge boost. Anything less, and it all comes down to the game against Germany.
This past year the U.S. defeated Germany 4-3. It was a runaway before the U.S. defense sprung a leak or two late in the second half.
Most of the front line players were not on that German roster. They will be there on June 16 against the Americans.
But there should be no surprises. Klinsmann, who was a World Cup star and former German World Cup coach, understands German soccer and understands the German players. He may not be deeply familiar with these German players, but he understands their approach to the game.
Is that a U.S. advantage? Depends on how the American players play and the attitude Klinsmann has brought to the team. Has he instilled enough of an edge to the psyche of his team. How harden has their resolve to win become?
Injuries And Unforseen Events
Over the next couple of months injuries to key players on a number teams will render players either out of the World Cup entirely, or limit their availability.
The U.S. has already lost Stuart Holden with an ACL. He has said he can make it back in time for Brazil (see page 24). It is unlikely that will happen.
Steve Cherundolo may just be the best right back in the history of the U.S. Men’s National Team. He has not been part of the MNT program since going down with leg injuries nearly three years ago.
He says he will be ready to make himself available for selection. All that will be determined by how he plays with the Hanover team he captains in the German Bundesliga.
Both of these players would bring something to the team. Leadership, enthusiasm, resolve, determination! Those things might buy them a ticket on the plane to Brazil.
Who Will Score The Goals
In the next four months, the defensive chemistry must solidify itself, which makes it important for Gonzalez and Besler to play together as much as possible.
But on the other end of the field, the question is who will score the goals.
Jozy Altidore and Aron Johannsson have scored them by the bunches in Holland. They need to find that magic while wearing the Red, White and Blue.
Altidore scored in five consecutive games last summer, but has fallen back into a scoring funk since joining Sunderland in the EPL.
Donovan and Dempsey are the most experienced. Maybe them?
It may be their last World Cup to lead the U.S. offensive effort!
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