The Near Post’s USMNT Player of the Week: Alejandro Bedoya

Alejandro Bedoya is headed upward in France. (Franck Fife/AFP)

by Roderick MacNeil

A highlight goal isn’t necessarily itself enough to earn USMNT Player of the Week honors. But when an American player scores a showstopper on the road against one of the biggest clubs in the world, it’s hard to ignore.

Alejandro Bedoya blasted home a scorcher from 25 yards against Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc de Princes. He picked up a loose ball, took a single touch his right to set, and sent it sailing high across goal into the upper left corner. The 8th minute strike gave FC Nantes an early 1:0 lead over Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s French giants.

Despite featuring prominently with the USMNT this fall, it’s been an up and down club season for Bedoya. He earned a regular spot in Nantes’ XI early on, starting seven of the first eight league matches. Then lingering injury troubles following the October international break kept him out of action for nearly a month. Since his return to the roster in early November, minutes had been scarce.

On Saturday at PSG, Bedoya earned his first start in just over two months. He made sure to announce his presence early.

A bright start to Nantes’ 2014-15 campaign, including a recent nine-game unbeaten run, had sparked hopes of qualifying for European competition. With three consecutive losses following a 2-1 defeat in Paris (you can only contain Zlatan for so long), Nantes now finds itself mid-table in Ligue 1 as the halfway mark approaches.

How long Bedoya stays in Nantes still remains an open question. Contract extension talks have stalled and a January move remains a possibility. If that comes to pass, there will surely be no shortage of suitors.

Alejandro Bedoya continues to impress, whether he’s suited up for the Red, White and Blue… ou pour Les Jaunes et Verts.

The Near Post’s USMNT Player of the Week: Charlie Davies

Charlies Davies' brace in Foxboro puts the Revs into MLS Cup. (Getty Images)

Charlies Davies’ brace in Foxboro puts the Revs into MLS Cup. (Getty Images)

by Roderick MacNeil

Charlie Davies’ last appearance with the U.S. Men’s National Team came over five years ago. On October 10, 2009, the USMNT officially qualified for the 2010 World Cup with a 3-2 away win over Honduras in San Pedro Sula. Davies started that night and played 79 minutes before giving way to substitute Jozy Altidore.

Three days later in Virginia, Davies was a passenger in the fatal car accident that very nearly ended his own life.

Davies’ long road to recovery saw him return to full training at his club Sochaux within 6 months. His professional path has been a winding once since then, taking him from France to MLS to Denmark and back to MLS again. But he’s never been able to regain the form that had him on track to play in the World Cup.

Whether Davies ever pulls on a United States jersey remains to be seen. His recent form with the New England Revolution might just start to push his name back into that conversation.

Davies scored twice on Saturday to lift the New England Revolution to a 4-3 aggregate goals win over the New York Red Bulls in the MLS Eastern Conference Finals. The Revs reached their first MLS Cup Final since 2007, and will attempt to win the club’s first league title when they face LA Galaxy on Sunday.

Davies’ emergence in New England’s playoff run has been instrumental. His brace over the weekend followed up his earlier playoff brace in the Eastern Semifinals against the Columbus Crew. Davies’ efforts led the Revs’ to an opening 4-2 away win, which quickly put that aggregate series on ice.

Minutes were scarce in the first half of the 2014 season for Davies, making only three brief substitute appearances before making his first start on July 19. From that point, he became a fixture in New England’s XI, starting 13 of the final 16 regular season matches.

Once the playoffs began, Davies kicked his game into a higher gear. With 4 goals in 4 games, you could call it several gears higher.

As far as his USMNT future is concerned, it’ll probably take a longer sustained run of good form to get a phone call from Jurgen Klinsmann. But Charlie Davies hasn’t given up on his World Cup dream. He might be closer than he’s ever been to taking that next big step in his comeback.

Until then, an MLS Cup Final awaits in Carson, CA this weekend. Charlie Davies will be on the field and making an impact, which is a lot more than most observers expected even just a few months ago. He just might have a few more surprises in store for us.

The Near Post’s USMNT Player of the Week: Terrence Boyd

Boyd

Terrence Boyd is back in the groove and ready to shine for the USMNT. (BILD: SN/GEPA PICTURES)

by Roderick MacNeil

It’s been a dry autumn when it comes to goal-scoring for USMNT players abroad. Certainly there have been solid performances from some goalkeepers and defenders plying their trades outside of MLS, but it’s always more fun to see Americans putting the ball in the net rather than protecting it.

From August 1 until October 29, only three goals were scored by capped American players in Europe (Morales, Diskerud, Altidore). The latter date marked the return of Terrence Boyd to the scorebook.

Boyd added two more goals on Saturday to lead RB Leipzig to a convincing 4-1 win over FC St. Pauli. He did it both in the air and on the ground, proving dangerous in front of goal no matter where he stood.

The first goal from Saturday vs. St. Pauli was a 30th minute header and the eventual gamewinner. Boyd followed a cross into space from Diego Demme beyond the far post and nodded it back across goal just past the outstretched arms of the goalkeeper:

 

Boyd’s second goal came in the 53rd minute. He collected a loose ball in the penalty area, took one touch to his right to create a shooting lane, and blasted a shot just under the crossbar in the center of the goal:

 

We just may be witnessing a return to the form that saw him score 20 all-competition goals last season for Rapid Vienna. It would bode well not only for the success of his new club, but also his future with the USMNT.

Boyd certainly has been highly visible on Jurgen Klinsmann’s radar. He was named to the 2014 World Cup provisional roster, before being released among the final training camp cuts. Though he has yet to score a goal with the senior team, he did make 13 appearances since the start of 2013, including 7 during World Cup Qualifying.

Shortly after the disappointment of missing the World Cup, Boyd took on the next challenge of his club career. In a move from the lightly regarded Austrian Bundesliga to the German 2.Bundesliga, he joined the ambitious RB Leipzig, a Red Bull-owned club that has already ascended from the fifth division to the cusp of the top flight in just five years. They looked to the promising USMNT forward to help get them over the final hurdle.

However, just weeks after signing in Leipzig, he suffered a partial ACL tear during a preseason friendly vs. Queens Park Rangers. The injury would ultimately keep him out of the lineup nearly three months. Consequently, Boyd wasn’t part of any of the five USMNT fall friendlies. It also made for a complicated transition to a new club.

Now back to full health, Boyd is back to doing what he does best: putting the ball in the net. He’s forced his way into RB Leipzig’s starting eleven, and he’s poised to be a big part of his club’s promotion campaign. Just one point behind in that race as the season’s midpoint approaches, that goal is very much within grasp.

Boyd’s next opportunity to don a United States kit likely won’t come until at least March, the next scheduled FIFA International Break. If he continues to demonstrate the form he showed over the weekend, he’s a lock to be part of Klinsmann’s roster then, and could be a key figure up front for years to come.

USMNT’s 2014 Finale: Three Keys vs Ireland

Mix Diskerud Needs to Better Under Pressure vs Ireland

Mix Diskerud Needs to Better Under Pressure vs Ireland (AFP Photo)

by Roderick MacNeil

Friday’s match vs. Colombia may have felt like an away match for the USMNT. The overwhelming support for Los Cafeteros from a sea of yellow jerseys was impossible to miss at Craven Cottage. Today at Dublin’s Aviva Stadium, there will be even less doubt which team is the crowd favorite. But that’s part of Jurgen Klinsmann’s mission for his squad: put his players into challenging situations and difficult environments, and see how they respond.

Three Keys for the USMNT:

1. Control the Tempo

“I’ve never played a game with that high tempo. That was incredible, and now I know where the bar is.”

Those were the words from USMNT midfielder Mix Diskerud following Friday’s 2:1 loss to Colombia. After a promising start, the Americans were overrun by the pace and high pressure of the Colombians, particularly in the midfield. Diskerud also noted how little time on the ball he and his U.S teammates had.

Today should be a different story. Ireland won’t play that way, nor do they have the personnel to do so. The U.S. needs to boss the midfield. Control possession, dictate pace. It’s always easier said than done, of course, but watching the difference in the midfield will be a strong indicator of what ‘s been learned. Diskerud and the less experienced Alfredo Morales, in particular, will still need to make quick decisions, but if they do so, the results should be more evident.

2. Experience in  Central Defense

Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler provide a much different look than the Jones-Brooks pairing we saw four days ago. While the duo that started vs Colombia offers it own strengths, today’s pairing returns to what worked so well this spring and summer. When the United States was rolling heading into the 2014 World Cup, it was Besler and Cameron paired together in the back. It’s easy to forget that the only reason that pairing split up in Brazil was due to Besler’s injury vs. Ghana. In question: How fit is Besler? It’s been a long 2014 for him, and his play for Sporting KC showed it down the stretch.

3. Finishing (Paging Wondo)

The Americans will have more time on the ball vs. Ireland than they did against Colombia. This will result in more chances, but as is so often the case, Klinsmann is desperate for finishers. Jozy Altidore seems to be finding his groove again in a U.S. kit. But it’s Chris Wondolowski that will be seeking to shed the weight of his infamous missed chance vs. Belgium. The criticism levied upon Wondo for that has always been extraordinarily too harsh. In truth, Wondo has made a career out of being deadly poacher. His ability to ghost between defenders has frustrated MLS opponents for years. He’ll be eager to remind the international scene, particularly USMNT supporters, what his game is really about.

Breaking Down the USMNT November Roster

Nguyen

Lee Nguyen is pretty jazzed about his first USMNT call-up since 2007

by Roderick MacNeil

Assembling the USMNT roster for the annual November friendlies once again presents Jurgen Klinsmann with a conundrum. An increasingly greater number of his best players are plying their trades in Major League Soccer. It comes as no surprise that many of those players, uncoincidentally, play for the some of the strongest teams in MLS.

The result is that in November, those players are deep into the MLS Playoffs, preparing for their clubs’ most important games of the year. Pulling those players away from their clubs to play a couple of friendlies in Europe is less than ideal, for all parties involves, even with MLS observing the FIFA International Dates. Players at the end of their MLS seasons have far tireder legs than their Euro-based counterparts.

Nonetheless, it’s Klinsmann’s job to assemble the strongest roster possible. Particularly so this month, with a high-profile match schedule first against 3rd-ranked Colombia at Fulham’s Craven Cottage in London. A challenging away match vs. Ireland in Dublin follows four days later.

Notes and thoughts on the roster:

  • Lee Nguyen makes his USMNT return at age 28 after a seven-year absence. It’s been a long, strange path for the New England Revolution midfielder and MLS MVP candidate. His three years spent in the Vietnamese Super League fits right into Jurgen Klinsmann’s recent decree that there are many different paths into the national team. Nguyen is a shining example of this. His 20 all-competition goals have the Revs on the precipice of their first MLS Cup appearance since 2007. Coincidentally, that came just months after Nguyen’s last USMNT cap, which came in a 2007 Copa America substitute appearance against, of course, Colombia.
  • Veterans DaMarcus Beasley and Kyle Beckerman return for the first time since the 2014 World Cup. Both at age 32, there are natural questions as to how they, and other older players, fit into Klinsmann’s plans heading into the new World Cup cycle. While their participation at Russia 2018 seems unlikely, the U.S. coach commented this week on the important leadership and teaching roles he expects them to fill in the immediate future.
  • Rubio Rubin is back with the senior team after a stint with the U23 squad in the Brazil camp last month. Rubin’s been one of the few bright spots for USMNT players in Europe this fall.
  • Jordan Morris gets another call sooner than most imagined. He’ll miss the final game of Stanford’s regular season this week (with the Pac-12 title on the line). Morris figures to sign a pro contract after the college season ends. Most speculation holds that will be with the Seattle Sounders, who hold his MLS Homegrown Player rights. However a report today from ESPNFC’s Jeff Carlisle sheds at least a little doubt on that move. Of particular note are sharply worded quotes from the typically measured Seattle GM Adrian Hanauer, criticizing Klinsmann for advising players (such as Morris) to bypass MLS and head straight to Europe. Stay tuned on this one.
  • Bobby Wood is back again, which is a real head-scratcher. There’s talent and potential here to be sure. But these days, Wood rarely makes the 18-man game day roster for 1860 Munich in the 2.Bundesliga, let alone gets any playing time. On the other hand, Andrew Wooten is in top ten in 2.Bundesliga scoring with 5 goals for SV Sandhausen, and plays the same position as Wood. Yet Wooten seems as far off Klinsmann’s radar as ever.
  • Jermaine Jones, DeAndre Yedlin and Lee Nguyen are the only MLS players called in from clubs that are still active in the playoffs. This came as a moderate surprise, given that exactly one year ago Klinsmann called in zero in that situation. However, it is believed that all three will return to their respective clubs immediately after the Colombia match. Clint Dempsey, certainly the most prominent MLS name absent from this roster, confirmed that his omission was by mutual agreement in order to get additional rest. Dempsey hasn’t had a true break since January, having played 45+ matches in ten months.
  • Miguel Ibarra also gets a quick return call following his shocking inclusion on the October roster. Ibarra’s Minnesota United were knocked out early in the NASL semifinals last weekend, but the individual trophies are starting to roll in. Ibarra was named winner of  NASL’s Golden Ball today, awarded to the league’s most valuable player.
  • Aron Johannsson, Terrence Boyd and Danny Williams all recently returned to their respective clubs’ lineups after lengthy injuries. It appears Klinsmann deemed none of the three back to sufficient match fitness for USMNT duty, instead choosing to take another look at the youngsters we saw in September and October. This trio’s next USMNT appearances now won’t come until at least March 2015.

 

 

The Second Shift Arrives; USA Preps for Honduras

Honduras US Wcup Soccer

Clint Dempsey and the USMNT rendez-vous with the Catrachos again. (Photo: The Guardian)

by Roderick MacNeil

Early last week we broke down our USMNT roster projections for the October friendlies. Things shook out more or less like we thought they might, with a second wave of MLS players arriving in camp for the Honduras match. Several others were sent back to their clubs after the Ecuador match, and we’re left with a roster that has a very different feel than the one that showed up in East Hartford four days ago. A few of the names are different than our projections, with injuries playing a partial role, but Jurgen Klinsmann did in fact try to work with MLS as best he could to avoid players missing club matches.

The Changes for Honduras:

New Arrivals

  • Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Forward
  • Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Midfielder
  • Jermaine Jones (New England Revolution), Midfielder
  • Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City), Midfielder
  • Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Defender
  • Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Goalkeeper

Just Departed

  • Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Forward
  • Joe Gyau (Borussia Dortmund), Forward
  • Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Midfielder
  • Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Defender
  • John Brooks (Hertha BSC), Defender
  • Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Goalkeeper

What jumps out at me here is that nearly all of the new arrivals are Starting XI caliber. That means many changes expected from Friday night.

Here’s what else we know based on the roster changes, and news that has emerged from training camp over the holiday weekend:

  • Sadly, Joe Gyau was sent back to Dortmund far earlier than expected. The injury news is grim; he’ll be out until at least January after surgery to repair a meniscus tear.
  • As announced last week, Nick Rimando will go the full 90 minutes vs. Honduras. Brad Guzan has returned to England. Neither Bill Hamid nor Sean Johnson will see game action.
  • Comments from Jermaine Jones at training this weekend suggest a positional change, even if just an experimental one. It’s hard to envision that new spot to be anything other than center back, so look for him there.
  • Is the Jones move a reaction to a lack of center back depth, or perhaps moreso, has Mix Diskerud forced his way into the lineup? A Diskerud-Bradley central pairing is intriguing and may get a run out.
  • Klinsmann indicated that he’d use this match as an opportunity to put younger players on the field with experienced veterans and see how they respond. Another start for DeAndre Yedlin and Greg Garza makes sense.

Here’s a look at the full projected Starting XI:

USAHON

Substitutions: I think we’ll see a lot more of Alfredo Morales and Bobby Wood again. Miguel Ibarra should make a late cameo just get his feet wet. Tim Chandler, Michael Orozco and Joe Corona also like see minutes.

PREDICTION:

United States 2, Honduras 0

USA: Dempsey 24′ (Bradley, Zusi)

USA: Altidore 67′ (Morales)

USA vs Ecuador: Preview, Primer, Projections, Predictions

A very young USMNT back line will seek to keep Enner Valencia off the scoreboard.

A young USMNT back line will seek to keep Enner Valencia off the scoreboard. (ESPNFC Photo)

by Roderick MacNeil

As has been pointed out elsewhere  (h/t @olaugh), there are 29 international matches on today’s schedule. The only one that features two teams that qualified for the 2014 World Cup will take place tonight in East Hartford, Connecticut: United States vs. Ecuador.

Ecuador, affectionately known as “La Tri” by its supporters, presents an interesting and challenging opponent for the U.S. Playing at home will make the USMNT a slight favorite in the matchup, but the two sides figure to be fairly well-matched.

The U.S. and Ecuador are ranked 17th and 21st, respectively in the October 2014 FIFA rankings. The accuracy of these rankings are always subject to high skepticism, but they can at least serve as a rough barometer of relative team strength.

Quick Fan Primer on Ecuador:

  • FIFA Ranking: 21
  • Qualified for 3 of the last 4 World Cups (missing South Africa 2010)
  • Advanced past World Cup Group Stage once (Germany 2006)
  • Have never failed to win at least 1 game in World Cup Group Stage
  • Player to Watch: Enner Valencia (West Ham United), 8 International goals in 15 caps
  • Familiar Face: Joao Plata (Real Salt Lake), 13 goals, 5 assists in 24 MLS games this season

USA vs. Ecuador Head-to-Head History:

  • Ecuador leads all-time series 5-2-4
  • USA has been shut out 8 times in 11 matches
  • USA 2-1-1 in last 4 meetings
  • Last meeting: 10/11/2011, Red Bull Arena, Harrison, NJ; Ecuador won 1:0
  • 4 U.S. players on current roster part of last match: Altidore/Chandler started, Ream/Rimando on bench
  • Only meeting outside of U.S. – 1993 Copa America in Quito, Ecuador; Ecuador won 2:0

Projected USMNT Starting Lineup:

What we know already via Jurgen Klinsmann’s public statements:

  • Landon Donovan will serve as captain, start and play about 30 minutes
  • Brad Guzan will play 90 minutes vs. Ecuador, Nick Rimando will play 90 vs. Honduras
  • Julian Green was sent back to Hamburger SV to fully recover from a nagging rib injury

The rest of the lineup is based on a combination of what we saw last month vs. Czech Republic, and my own observations from USMNT training at Harvard University this week. I think Klinsmann sticks with the same midfield that won in Prague, with several changes to the back line. A similar look up top, with Donovan slotting in Green’s place:

USAECU

Substitutions: Aside from Guzan, I think we’ll see Altidore, Gyau, Bedoya and Yedlin play 90 minutes. Miguel Ibarra and Bobby Wood are likely to be the only two unused field substitutes. We know that Nick Rimando and Bill Hamid will not take part in this match.

Prediction:

United States 2, Ecuador 1

USA: Donovan 10′ (Diskerud)

ECU: Caicedo 57′ (pen.)

USA: Altidore 86′ (Yedlin, Gyau)

Yedlin Re: Missing Cascadia Cup Clash: “I Have No Worries”

DeAndre Yedlin’s focus Friday night will be on La Tri, not the Whitecaps. (Roderick MacNeil Photo)

by Roderick MacNeil

BOSTON, Mass. – It’s an issue he’s dealt with before, and it’s never an ideal situation. With a future move to Tottenham Hotspur in the cards, time will tell if this is the last time DeAndre Yedlin misses a club match while on the road with the U.S. Men’s National Team. In MLS with the Seattle Sounders, it’s a fact of life.

Yedlin is with the USMNT ahead of Friday night’s friendly vs. Ecuador in East Hartford, Connecticut, which will also be Landon Donovan’s final international match.

Meanwhile, about 3,000 miles away in Seattle, Washington, Yedlin’s Seattle Sounders face the Vancouver Whitecaps in a match that will not only decide the 2014 Cascadia Cup, but will also prove critical in the race against the LA Galaxy for the Supporters’ Shield.

I asked Yedlin at USMNT training this week at Harvard University about how difficult it is to leave his club at this point of the season, and it his thoughts on the schedule conflict:

“It’s tough, but I’m confident in the team. We have great depth. We have guys who can play right back, Brad Evans, so I have no worries. I know they’ll do what they need to do and get that win, so I have no worries.”

Certainly the confidence in his teammates will be encouraging for Seattle supporters, and it’s well placed, of course. Evans was himself the primary USMNT starting right back for much 2014 World Cup Qualifying. So if there’s any MLS club well positioned to withstand the temporary loss of a player of Yedlin’s caliber, it’s the Sounders.

From that perspective, it’s an honest response from Yedlin. At the same time, complaining about the situation is unlikely to win him any favors with Jurgen Klinsmann, so it’s also the politically smart answer.

But as a Seattle native and Sounders academy product, surely there’s a big part of him inside that rues missing the chance to hoist the Cascadia Cup for the first time in his career. It shouldn’t have to be that way.

A look at the current USMNT roster suggests that Klinsmann did his best to avoid forcing his MLS players to miss club matches, but it’s far from his top priority. Aside from Yedlin, only Chris Wondolowski and Nick Rimando are assured of missing MLS games. Donovan and Bill Hamid will be released back their clubs immediately following the Ecuador match. Omar Gonzalez and Luis Gil could also be sent home when other MLS reinforcements are added.

Positional considerations dictate choices to a large extent. Fabian Johnson’s injury may have clinched Yedlin’s inclusion. As presently constituted, there are only 3 outside backs on Klinsmann’s roster: Yedlin, Timothy Chandler and Greg Garza. Midfielder Miguel Ibarra had to be used as a left back in a 10-v-10 scrimmage.

As to the aforementioned transfer to England, Yedlin maintained that there is no clear timetable for the move.

“[It’s] not concrete. Right now I’m just trying to focus on the MLS season and finish that out, hopefully win the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup. But as the time comes around, I don’t know the exact steps. I’m not [in regular contact with (Tottenham manager) Mauricio Pochettino], no. I don’t know if Sigi [Schmid] has contact with him or not, but I have not.”

For Yedlin and his USMNT teammates, the focus Friday night is all about Landon Donovan.

“At least for my generation, he was a hero. He’s the player we all looked up to. He was an inspiration to be doing such great things. To be here for his last game is going to be a pretty special moment. For me personally, I can connect with having grown up seeing him and now playing with one of my heroes.”

After the festivities have concluded Friday night at Rentschler Field, it’s a safe bet that Yedlin will be hustling to a TV set to cheer on his Sounders.

 

Both games can be seen nationally on NBC Sports Network tonight:

Unites States vs. Ecuador, 7:00 PM ET

Seattle vs Vancouver, 10:00 PM ET

October USMNT Friendlies: Projecting A Tricky Roster

We know Donovan will take a bow. What else can we expect?

by Roderick MacNeil

How to solve the puzzle of the USMNT roster for the two October friendlies?

The calculus for Jurgen Klinsmann is far from straightforward. In theory, sure, he can call in any player he chooses on FIFA International Dates. But increasingly inconvenient schedule conflicts with Major League Soccer’s season cloud the picture considerably.

And that’s before you even get to the difficult decisions on key players with lingering injuries, poor runs of play and filling a roster for a U-23 camp.

Where to begin?

First, let’s itemize what we know for sure about who will or will not be part of this roster:

  • IN: Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy)
  • Why? The 10/10 match vs. Ecuador will be his official USMNT farewell match. He won’t be part of the 10/14 match vs. Honduras.
  • OUT: Emerson Hyndman (Fulham), Rubio Rubin (FC Utrecht), Cody Cropper (Southampton), Jordan Morris (Stanford)
  • Why Not? These four players, who were all part of the 9/3 roster vs. Czech Republic, will instead head to Brasilia for a short U-23 Team camp, followed by a match vs. Brazil’s U-23s.
  • IN: Miguel Ibarra (Minnesota United)
  • Why? According to a report last week from ESPNFC’s Doug McIntyre, the NASL star will be part of the upcoming roster. A surprising inclusion, but Klinsmann is known to leave no stone unturned.
  • OUT: Terrence Boyd (RB Leipzig), Jonathan Spector (Birmingham City), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City)
  • Why Not? Various Injuries. Admittedly some conjecture re: the latter two, but both have been out for extended periods after surgeries, just returning to training this week. Flying them over from Europe while still working back to fitness seems unnecessary.
  • OUT: Juan Agudelo, Oguchi Onyewu
  • Why Not? You’ll notice their clubs are not listed. That’s because incredibly, they still don’t have clubs. If Klinsmann wasn’t interested in calling in Agudelo when he was in form for Utrecht last summer, he’s not about to do so now.

 

Those items established, let’s use Klinsmann’s own statements as a guide. He’s expressed intent to call in a “big” roster, probably 30 players altogether. We can also look to his comments in a U.S. Soccer interview several weeks ago:

“Looking toward the October games against Ecuador and Honduras, we definitely look at the strongest squad possible. It’s exciting for the fans and for us. We look at bringing the players back that won in the Czech Republic, and also to mix them with the players here in MLS.”

Without reading too much into “strongest squad possible,” there’s clear intent to integrate the MLS players that he eschewed calling in last month. Which ones and to what extent? Well, that’s the mystery.

Klinsmann’s relationship with MLS is a complicated one. He’s expressed frustration with the league’s habit of ignoring FIFA International Dates, but understands it is an issue without simple solutions. He also recognizes that as MLS’s overall quality continues to improve, its players will continue comprise a very substantial portion of the USMNT roster. It’s a symbiotic relationship that needs compromise, and Klinsmann has to be willing to meet the league in the middle.

Here’s what we can deduce:

In September, Klinsmann took a completely (Nick Rimando aside) hands-off approach for the match in Prague. For just a single friendly in Europe, he chose not to pull MLS players away from their clubs.

In November, MLS will fully observe FIFA International Dates by taking a breaking during its playoffs, just prior to the Conference Finals. Teams playing shorthanded at this stage would be a public relations disaster.

It’s October where a compromise makes sense for both sides. Klinsmann wants a full strength squad, but he also recognizes that perception problem of forcing star players to miss critical league matches. It angers coaches, and it could even foster some ill will amongst players.

The sensible solution is to work with and around the MLS schedule. By naming 30 players, he can call in MLS players in shifts, so to speak. Some would just report for one of the two matches, based on a rotation that allows them not to miss any club matches.

We’ll get back to that.

First, let’s establish who Klinsmann will call in from other leagues:

Goalkeeper (1):

Brad Guzan (Aston Villa) – He’s competing for the #1 job and will relish every opportunity

Defenders (7):

John Brooks (Hertha BSC) – Relegated to U-23s, but still unquestionably a big part of Klinsmann’s plans going forward

Edgar Castillo (Atlas) – Has played well at his new club and has featured prominently with USMNT

Timothy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt) – Earned several consecutive starts before coming off the bench on Saturday

Greg Garza (Tijuana) – Also performed well in Prague at a position (left back) lacking youth and depth

Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach) – Expected to be back in his club’s lineup Sunday after missing several games with what was deemed a minor Achilles problem.

Michael Orozco (Puebla) – Played well in Prague and made preliminary roster for World Cup

Tim Ream (Bolton Wanderers) – Borderline choice, but provides depth at center back with Cameron’s absence

Midfielders (6):

Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes) – Scored winner vs Czech, having one of best seasons among Euro-based players

Joe Corona (Tijuana) – Becoming a Klinsmann favorite, and a fixture on the left for Tijuana

Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg BK) – Almost certain to start in central midfield vs Ecuador

Julian Green (Hamburger SV) – Seemed recovered from rib strain, kept out this weekend by HSV as precaution

Miguel Ibarra (Minnesota United) – Let’s just go with this and enjoy the intrigue…

Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt o4) – Midfield depth vs ECU perhaps an issue, showed well in Prague

Forwards (3):

Jozy Altidore (Sunderland) – We keep hoping that strong USMNT form might trigger something at Sunderland

Joe Gyau (Borussia Dortmund) – Used USMNT debut as springboard into BVB’s first team & Bundesliga debut

Andrew Wooten (SV Sandhausen) – 4 game scoring streak, 3 late gamewinners, he’s more than earned a look

 

That’s 17 players available for October 10 vs. Ecuador so far. Enough to play, but lacking depth and diversity of bench options. We’ll need to add at least one at each position to have a workable roster. That brings us back to MLS.

We’re seeking to avoid players whose teams play within a day of the Ecuador match. Unfortunately that rules out 14 teams. But the remaining five offer some convenient and attractive choices:  DC United, FC Dallas, Houston, LA Galaxy and Portland. So we’ll round out the first group with the following:

Goalkeeper (1):

Bill Hamid (DC United) – Arguably DC’s season MVP, and eager to inject himself into the starting GK race

Defender (1):

Matt Hedges (FC Dallas) – This could have been Omar Gonzalez, but Hedges gets a deserved look,  and Bruce Arena doesn’t freak about having 3 players incur additional travel while LA’s 10/12 opponent (FCD) has none. Convenient.

Midfielders/Forwards (2):

Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy) – It’s his day.

Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy) – Having an absolute bust-out season, top American goalscorer in MLS. Can’t ignore him.

 

These four players will be released following the Ecuador match because they all have club matches on 10/12. They’ll need to replaced like for like with MLS players that weren’t available on 10/10. This “second wave” MLS  contingent will also include a core of USMNT players that will continue to figure prominently into the Copa America 2016, and perhaps the 2018 World Cup:

Goalkeepers (2):

Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire) – Regular part of the GK rotation, will get his shot at competing for minutes

Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake) – Can he continue to make his case for the #1 job in Howard’s absence?

Defenders (2):

Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City) – Struggles of late, but a fixture at center back, perhaps USMNT call can set him right

DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders) – Difficult to imagine his rising star not being part of this roster

Midfielders (3):

Michael Bradley (Toronto FC) – He might see limited minutes due to club matches on 10/8 & 10/11, but too important to exclude

Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake) – His absence from U-23 roster was notable, may signal his inclusion here

Jermaine Jones (New England Revolution) – May be the most in-form player in the pool; age won’t rule him out yet

Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City) – Like his SKC teammate Besler, could use a jolt in form by being forced to raise his game

Forwards (1):

Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders) – The Sounders would prefer he not take part, but leave your captain out of the mix.

 

The flux of MLS players in and out of camp brings the total available players for 10/14 vs Honduras to 26. That’s a bit unwieldy, so it’s likely we see a few more released. Let’s say its Guzan, Castillo, Morales and Ibarra that won’t be needed for the second game, given the composition of the MLS reinforcements.

Got all that?

 

I’ll sum it up below:

 

10/10 vs Ecuador ONLY (8):

GK: Guzan, Hamid

D: Castillo, Hedges

M: Donovan, Ibarra, Morales

F: Zardes

 

Both Matches (13):

GK: (none)

D: Brooks, Chandler, Garza, F. Johnson, Orozco, Ream

M: Bedoya, Corona, Diskerud, Green

F: Altidore, Gyau, Wooten

 

10/14 vs Honduras ONLY (9):

GK: S. Johnson, Rimando

D: Besler, Yedlin

M: Bradley, Gil, Jones, Zusi

F: Dempsey

 

What’s clear is that Major League Soccer needs a solution that will allow it to observe more (if not all) FIFA dates. It’s a mess for everyone involved, and the problem will only get worse as MLS attracts better talent, both domestic and international.

Looking forward to seeing how Jurgen Klinsmann makes me look foolish in a few hours.

USA 1:0 CZE – Five Thoughts on What We Learned

Joe Gyau Excelled in his USMNT Debut (Getty Images)

Joe Gyau Excelled in his USMNT Debut (Getty Images)

by Roderick MacNeil

Five thoughts on from the USMNT’s last friendly vs. the Czech Republic:

1. Rimando Rises

With Tim Howard taking a one-year sabbatical from the USMNT, popular opinion assumes that 29-year-old Brad Guzan will take over the starting GK job. Nick Rimando has served notice that he’s not interested in popular opinion. Rimando was flawless in the second half against the Czechs, making four critical saves (nearly all of the highlight reel variety) to preserve both the win and shutout. Granted, Guzan had much less to do in the first half, thanks in part to playing behind a more experienced lineup. But Rimando was far beyond adequate in his 45 minutes; he shined and showcased a knack for the spectacular that MLS fans have come to expect. Guzan’s Premier League resume won’t place him at the top of the depth chart by default, nor will Rimando’s age (35) or height (5’10”) disqualify him. Make no mistake, this is an open competition in Klinsmann’s eyes. Real Salt Lake’s standout keeper may yet land the starting job at next summer’s Gold Cup.

2. Meet Joe Gyau

Among the three players who made their USMNT debuts against the Czechs, the most noteworthy performance undoubtedly came from 21-year-old Joe Gyau. Gyau started at forward and went a full 90 minutes. So much for easing new guys into the lineup. Gyau looked composed on the ball and displayed a maturity beyond his years. He showed confidence running at defenders and didn’t hesitate to take shots at goal. His speed on the flanks proved problematic for the Czech defense all day long. Sure, he’s far from a finished product, and his inexperience showed itself at times with decision-making errors on the defensive end. But Gyau impressed overall, and we can expect to see a lot more of him in USA uniform. Gyau’s next challenge: Performing well enough with Borussia Dortmund’s reserves to earn a call from Jurgen Klopp to BVB’s first team. It may happen sooner than we think.

3. MLS Absences Loom Large

This starting XI that took the field vs. the Czech Republic bore little resemblance to those we saw this summer in Brazil, and that wasn’t necessarily all by design. With just a single friendly in Europe during this particular international break, Jurgen Klinsmann elected not to call in players from Major League Soccer (Rimando being the lone exception.) With Jermaine Jones and DaMarcus Beasley’s recent transfers, a full majority (12 of 23 players) from the World Cup roster now play professionally in MLS. In fact, the only clear first-choice players that started in Prague were Jozy Altidore and Fabian Johnson. That’s a dramatic shift from four years ago when only 4 MLS players made the WC roster, three of which (Bornstein, Buddle, Findley) transferred out of the league shortly thereafter.

4. USA Feeling More at Home in Europe

Have away victories in Europe become routine for the USMNT? Perhaps not, but since the 2010 World Cup, the United States has collected wins in Slovenia, Italy, Bosnia-Herzegovina and now, the Czech Republic. Toss in a draw in Russia and you’ve got an impressive collection of results in difficult, hostile environments across the pond during the Klinsmann era. With those results come increased expectations. In the new reality of 2014, the United States is simply a better team than the Czechs. Home or away, the USMNT is now expected to get a result against an opponent of this level. Not that CZE is a weak side – they aren’t. But consider that the Czechs have only qualified for one World Cup (2006) in five attempts since the breakup of Czechoslovakia, and you see a national program that has fallen far from its historic glory. That said, this isn’t a win to be minimized: Without most of its first-choice starters, the U.S. defeated the Czechs’ first-choice team. This was also a Czech squad that was motivated for a strong result heading into its first Euro 2016 qualifier vs. the Netherlands.

5. Defensive Midfield Questions for 2018

While defensive midfield is far from a current problem for the USMNT, future depth (as it relates to age) is a concern going forward. Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones (not to mention Michael Bradley) were missing from this roster, leaving Klinsmann’s roster thin on obvious Euro-based replacements.  This resulted in a 4-3-3 lineup with Joe Corona in the middle, and Mix Diskerud playing more centrally than the lineup card would suggest. Neither player provides the type of reliable defensive cover that Klinsmann’s preferred style demands. In 2014, defensive midfield is a strong position for the U.S. depth-wise. But in 2018, both Beckerman and Jones will be 36 years old. Identifying and developing the next “generation” in that position will be a challenge during the next cycle.