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.

Six Uncapped Players Highlight Youthful USMNT Roster in Prague

Stanford’s Jordan Morris will decline payment and retain NCAA eligibility. (Stanford Daily Photo)

by Roderick MacNeil

It’s been just over nine short weeks since the USMNT stepped exhaustedly off the Arena Fonte Nova pitch in Salvador, concluding its long four-year journey to Brazil.

But ready or not, fifty-four hundred miles away in Prague, the 2018 World Cup cycle begins in earnest on Wednesday.

The Czech Republic is a long way from Brazil. However, if one measures by the FIFA calendar, its even further away from Russia, no matter how close it may appear on a map. It’s here at Prague’s Generali Arena that USMNT’s Road to Russia 2018 begins.

Roster choices for Jurgen Klinsmann always come with a selection dilemma. Major League Soccer, with rare exception and unlike every other league on the planet, still does not observe FIFA International Dates. This means when MLS players get called in for international duty, they miss games. It’s an endless source of frustration for both USMNT and MLS head coaches alike. A rapidly increasing number of national team players (both U.S. and otherwise) are now calling MLS home, so it’s a problem that needs solving. But that’s a topic to delve into further on another day.

So normally, MLS clubs push onward without their various National Team stars. This time, Klinsmann has shown mercy on the league by not selecting MLS players (except one, Real Salt Lake GK Nick Rimando, but he won’t miss a league game.) With clubs heading down their playoff stretch runs, it’s a welcome relief around the league.

With just one friendly in Europe on the USMNT schedule this week, maybe it was more luck and timing than mercy. U.S. Soccer had a tentative deal to face Colombia in San Antonio on September 9. That arrangement fell through when the Colombian association failed to sign the contract in time to seal the deal. Otherwise, Klinsmann may have felt more inclined to delve into his domestic player pool with a stateside match.

As it is, Klinsmann limited his call-ups to players based in Europe and Mexico. While he’d no doubt prefer a complete first choice roster, instead he took the opportunity to broaden the player pool with younger talent. Six uncapped players are in camp, and a total of eight players age 21 and under. Nine holdovers from the 2014 Brazil roster provide an intriguing mix of youth and experience.

 

The Rookies:

Emerson Hyndman (Fulham, Midfielder, age 18) – The grandson of former FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman doesn’t have a long history with the U.S. program, having only three U-17 appearances to his name. He’s been part of Fulham’s academy system since 2011. Fulham’s unfortunate relegation from the Premier League may have actually been good fortune for Hyndman. A lower wage budget in The Championship has equaled more playing time and greater responsibility for the young central midfielder. He earned a starting role straight out of training camp and has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal start (0-4-1) to Fulham’s 2014-15 campaign. Hyndman also holds a Portuguese passport, so Klinsmann may be keen to get him cap-tied.

Greg Garza (Club Tijuana, Defender, age 23) – Entering his fourth season with the Xolos, Garza has pushed his way into a regular starting role at left back. He spent the last two years primarily as a backup to fellow USMNT mate Edgar Castillo. Castillo has moved on to Liga MX’s Atlas, but it’s the emergence of Garza that ultimately made Castillo expendable in Tijuana. Incumbent USMNT starter DaMarcus Beasley will be 36 in 2018, so Garza enters the fray of a wide open competition. He’s another dual national with Mexican eligibility, despite being born and raised in Texas.

Jordan Morris (Stanford University, Forward, age 19) – Unquestionably the most surprising name on this roster, Morris is the first active U.S. college player to earn a senior national team call-up in nearly 20 years. Like DeAndre Yedlin, Morris is a native of Washington state and a product of the Seattle Sounders FC academy system. He was named to the All-Pac12 Team as a freshman last season with 6 goals and 7 assists, and he excelled with the U.S. U20 Team at the 2013 Toulon Tournament in France. He’s no stranger to Klinsmann and staff, as Morris was named 2013 U.S. Developmental Academy National Player of the Year. He’s a dynamic forward whose time appears to be coming sooner than most projections.

Joe Gyau (Borussia Dortmund II, Forward, age 21) – While Gyau is still seeking his first senior team cap, he’s been capped by the U.S. at nearly every level back to U15. Born in Texas, raised in Maryland, and the son of form U.S. international Phillip Gyau, he’s well entrenched in the American system. However, he’s also a dual national via his grandfather, a former Ghanaian international. Perhaps it’s best to get this kid capped before the Black Stars come calling. Gyau begins his fourth professional year in Germany with a move to a big club in Borussia Dortmund. Granted, he’s been signed to the reserve side, but a foot in the door presents opportunities… even more so if he shows well on the International level.

Rubio Rubin (FC Utrecht, Forward, age 18) – Surprise, another uncapped dual national! Rubin is also eligible to represent Mexico, though he’s on record with his preference for the U.S. team. With 14 goals in 37 appearances for the U.S. U17s, American fans will be pleased to hear that. Portland Timbers supporters lament Rubin signing with Dutch club FC Utrecht, rather than with the hometown club where he spent two years in the academy system. On the other hand, Rubin found himself in the starting lineup for an Eredivisie side on opening day last month, then one-upped himself by tallying an assist. He earned his second start last weekend, which isn’t bad for a player who was expected to join Utrecht’s reserves.

Cody Cropper (Southampton, Goalkeeper, age 21) – Cropper won’t get his first cap against the Czechs; Klinsmann has already announced that Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando will each play one half in goal. Nevertheless, Cropper is already becoming a familiar name around the USMNT camp. He trained with the World Cup roster during the Send-Off Series to serve as a fourth keeper in practice and has been called up for European-based friendlies before. At this point, he seems firmly behind both Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson in the pecking order, but with his name on a Premier League roster, he’s bound to stick around the conversation for many years to come. Given his age, Cropper is a prime candidate to start at the 2016 Olympics, which is ostensibly a U23 tournament.

 

Two other players on the roster only have one (1) senior cap, so let’s reacquaint ourselves with:

Bobby Wood (1860 Munich, Forward, age 21) – Wood made his USMNT debut a year ago around this time in Sarajevo during a 4-3 win over Bosnia-Herzegovina (The Altidore hat trick game). He subbed on in the 87th minute for Brad Evans, a mere cameo that got him capped; hardly enough time to make an impression. A substitute for much of the 2013-14 season at 1860 Munich, Wood has started each of the club’s first 5 matches this season after scoring twice in preseason friendlies.

Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt 04, Midfielder, age 24) – Morales’ lone prior USMNT appearance was also a brief one, entering in the 75th minute against Canada in January 2013. Rumors have been floated of continued interest from the Peru National Team (he’d be eligible via his Peruvian-born father), which would require a one-time switch, but these rumors seem to have little substance. He’s been called in by Klinsmann numerous times, and has been in the U.S. system since the U16 level. Morales has been a regular starter at left midfield for 2.Bundesliga side Ingolstadt since early last season, and scored in his team’s opening game of 2014.

 

Everyone Else:

Julian Green (3 caps) and John Brooks (5 caps) seem like relative veterans compared to the group above. When you’ve scored a goal in the World Cup, you’re no longer a newcomer.

The other Brazil 2014 returnees include: Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando, Fabian Johnson, Timothy Chandler, Mix Diskerud, Alejandro Bedoya and Jozy Altidore. Geoff Cameron was initially named to the squad, but withdrew due to injury.

Filling out the rest of the roster are defenders Michael Orozco and Tim Ream, and midfielders Brek Shea and Joe Corona. All four were part of the USMNT mix to various extents during 2014 Qualifying. Corona made the preliminary 30-man roster for Brazil, but was among the final cuts.

 

Projected Lineup:

An educated guess at a projected Starting XI vs. the Czech Republic — I’m not expecting any newcomers in the starting lineup, but we’ll see many of the them in the second half:

4-4-1-1 Formation:

GK: Guzan

DF: Johnson, Brooks, Ream, Chandler

MF: Bedoya, Corona, Diskerud, Shea

FW: Green; Altidore

Corona/Diskerud in a double-pivot central midfield; Green playing more wide than central, tucking in behind Altidore’s hold-up play.

 

Prediction:

United States 2:1 Czech Republic

Altidore 11′ (Diskerud)

Morris 74′ (Hyndman)

 

The United States faces the Czech Republic on Wednesday, September 3, 2014 at Generali Arena, Prague – 2:15 PM EST, (NBCSN, UniMas).

Yanks in New Places: Summer 2014 U.S. International Transfers, Loans & Moves

Some prominent USMNT figures were on the move this summer. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Some prominent USMNT figures were on the move this summer. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

by Roderick MacNeil

The Near Post has been on temporary hiatus over the summer. We’re back now, and as always, there’s plenty to talk about in the universe of American soccer. It was an eventful ten weeks or so, to say the least.

The World Cup happened, for example. Remember that? The USMNT defied the odds and escaped the Group of Death. Yes, that really happened. We’re sure of it. It was televised.

Along the way, we felt the ecstasy of John Brooks’ dramatic winner vs. Ghana, Jermaine Jones’ seeing-eye golazo vs. Portugal, and Julian Green’s first touch extra-time strike vs. Belgium. We also were crushed by Jozy Altidore’s injured hamstring vs. Ghana, Cristiano Ronaldo’s perfect cross at the death vs. Portugal, and Chris Wondolowski’s missed chance to beat Belgium in the Round of 16. We also witnessed Tim Howard ascend to full-flegded superhero status with his 16 saves against Belgium.

Now a new World Cup cycle is upon us. The various Summer 2014 Transfer Windows have closed. There are new faces emerging on the USMNT roster, and many of the familiar faces have found new clubs. We figured, what more appropriate way to get back in the swing of things than to recap recent USMNT transfers and moves?

In that spirit, we’ve provided a spiffy infographic for your indulgence and enjoyment. It’s a taste of what’s ahead here at The Near Post, as we endeavor to bring you even better coverage of all things American soccer. Infographics are fun, so we’re making them. Let us know what you think!

We now proudly present our infographic debut…

Yanks in New Places” (Summer 2014 – Key U.S. International Transfers, Loans & Moves)

The Near Post: Yanks in New Places (.pdf – full size , 3.2MB) (linked file opens in new tab)

The Near Post: Yanks in New Places (.png – full size, 3.7 MB) (linked file opens in new tab)

(Scaled image below opens image in new tab):

The Near Post - Yanks in New Places

 

USMNT vs Nigeria: Snapshot Preview

The USMNT may have its hands full dealing with Nigeria's Victor Moses in the middle.

The USMNT may have its hands full dealing with Nigeria’s Victor Moses in the middle.

by Roderick MacNeil

As has been the case with the entire Send-Off Series for the USMNT, the lineups are the most important thing to watch. Klinsmann’s choices against Nigeria will tell us a great deal about what we can expect to see in nine days against Ghana. Based on what we’ve seen in the Azerbaijan and Turkey matches, there’s still some experimentation occurring, and still some questions to be answered about which combinations work best. Here are the biggest spots to watch today:

Left Back: Timothy Chandler vs. DaMarcus Beasley (vs. Fabian Johnson?)

What’s clear is that Jurgen Klinsmann wants Timothy Chandler to be his starting left back. What’s not clear is whether that is going to work. Chandler hasn’t played on that side prior to the matches against Azerbaijan and Turkey, and thus far, the results are concerning. Chandler simply hasn’t looked comfortable. The amount of space Turkey found high up the field on his side was alarming. Surely no single player deserves all the blame when that happens, but it’s part of the equation when determining how certain combinations work. There are still lingering questions about Chandler’s fitness level after missing three months with a torn meniscus. He appeared to be laboring in the latter stages of the game, and was directly responsible for the turnover that led to the Turkey penalty kick.

The most likely alternative is to go back to DaMarcus Beasley, who manned that side throughout most of World Cup Qualification. This might sound odd given that Beasley is a converted midfielder, but he’s played at fullback so much for the USMNT, that at this point his presence would return a degree of stability.

Of course, the heavy use of Chandler recently might say something about Klinsmann’s degree of comfort with Beasley. The other option is to shift Fabian Johnson back over to the left side and start a player who is more accustomed to being on the right. Coincidentally, that person could be Chandler. It also could be DeAndre Yedlin, who’s gotten a solid run-out in both pre-World Cup friendlies. Yedlin seems to settle in against Turkey and may finally have shaken the obvious nerves that showed in earlier appearances. But as unpredictable as Klinsmann has been, he’s not likely to give a player his first career USMNT start at the World Cup. If he’s pondering starting Yedlin at all, we’d see it today.

If it’s Chandler on the left again, it means we’re going to see him there on June 16. Sink or swim, Klinsmann has faith it’s going to work with one more game to work the kinks out.

Left Midfield: Brad Davis vs. Alejandro Bedoya

This one feels completely up in the air. My hunch is that Bedoya has the slight edge, but it’s very close. Bedoya offers a bit more creativity and versatility, but Davis is a better defender and set piece specialist. It’s really a matter of what Klinsmann prefers. Of course the decision at left back directly impacts the one at left midfield. Klinsmann speaks of how one change impacts several other positions, and that can’t be overlooked. Davis and Bedoya have very limited experience playing with Chandler at all, let alone during this experiment on the left side. How each player communicates and interchanges with Chandler is critical. A lack of familiarity could pose big problems in Brazil. This is an important position to get right, err, left.

The Middle: Paging Kyle Beckerman

Another glaring issue is the ability of the central midfield to maintain contact with the central defense. There’s been a lot of talk about the diamond midfield and specific concern about Jermaine Jones staying deep enough for it to work. Klinsmann has downplayed the importance of formations, particularly the diamond. According to him, the system is to supposed to play like a diamond going forward, but flatten out in defense. What that means is a whole lot of responsibility for Michael Bradley to get up and down the field. If anyone’s got the fitness to pull that off, it’s Bradley, but what we saw against Turkey was acres of space to operate in front of goal, and a central defense often sent scrambling. Jermaine Jones arrived to make several goal-saving blocks and clearances, but his services shouldn’t be required in that capacity nearly as often as we saw on Sunday.

One possible solution is reexamining the use of Kyle Beckerman. This can take place in more than one form. The first is the possibility of a straight one-for-one swap for Jones. We all remember how effective the Bradley-Beckerman combination was against Mexico in April. Beckerman was a steady presence in both the Gold Cup and during qualification when Jones wasn’t available. He’s more than proven himself a viable option.

There’s little question that Klinsmann’s ideal first choice is Jones. That famous “spine”, as declared by Klinsmann, has always included Jones in the middle. But if there are problems with his effectiveness when relying upon Bradley as an attacking midfielder, that combination needs to be reconsidered. Beckerman offers superior distribution and greater range in defensive cover. Jones brings a physical presence both on the ground and in the air that no one else on the USMNT roster can match.

The outside-the-box answer is to consider shifting to a 4-2-3-1 formation, with both Jones and Beckerman at CDM, and relieve some of the defensive burden on an attacking Bradley. The result would be improved possession in the midfield, as well as narrowing the gaps against Group G opposition that can exploit the diamond by overflooding the midfield. This also allows the fullbacks to get forward without putting too much pressure on the wingers to support on the counterattack. The tradeoff is removing a wide attacking player like Bedoya or Davis for what Beckerman provides in the middle. It would be a change of pace for Klinsmann, but it’s one worth considering.

 

The Skinny on Nigeria:

  • Reigning African Champions: Winners of Africa Cup of Nations 1980, 1994, 2013
  • Have qualified 5 of last 6 World Cups, only missing in 2006
  • Group winner in first 2 WC appearances (1994 & 1998)
  • Finished last in group last 2 WC appearances (2002 & 2010)
  • Have never won a match in the Knockout Rounds
  • Current FIFA ranking: 45
  • Peak FIFA ranking: 5 (April 1994)
  • Only 1 prior meeting between USA and Nigeria: June 1995 Friendly, Foxboro, MA, USA Won 3-2
  • Will play in Group D vs. Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran
  • U.S. coach Klinsmann chose to play Nigeria because he views them as playing a similar style to Ghana, particular the way its front 5-6 players line up.

 

Project USMNT Lineup:

GK: Howard

D: Johnson, Cameron, Besler, Chandler

M: Zusi, Jones, Bradley, Bedoya

F: Dempsey, Altidore

The United States kicks off vs. Nigeria at 6:00 pm ET, Saturday, June 7 at Everbank Field in Jacksonville, FL (ESPN2, UniMas, WatchESPN).

USMNT vs. Azerbaijan: Your One-Stop Complete Preview & Scouting Report

One of these two teams will face the USMNT on May 27 in San Francisco.

One of these two teams will face the USMNT on May 27 in San Francisco. We provide some clarification.

by Roderick MacNeil

Azerbaijan, Land of Fire.

I’ve got to admit, that sounds pretty darned exciting. The slogan is emblazoned across the chests of players at Atletico Madrid, the new reigning champions of La Liga in Spain. The phrase stirs intrigue, mystery, maybe a touch of fear of the unknown. It evokes fantastical images of a place brimming with active volcanoes, their eruptions dotting the visible landscape. Is there fire in the sky, perhaps danger in the air?

A tourist risks approaching a deadly mud volcano in Azerbaijan.

A tourist encounters a dangerous mud volcano somewhere in Azerbaijan.

Alas, the terrain of the real Azerbaijan is a bit more tame. Oh, there are plenty of volcanoes, but it’s more commonly known for its “mud volcanoes” than the ones that spew fiery molten lava. Mud volcanoes still seem like a cool thing, but perhaps a letdown if you’re envisioning towers of fire.

I don’t know much about the nation of Azerbaijan. I can locate it on a map. I can tell you its capital (Baku), identify its flag, and even offer a snippet or two on its semi-recent political history as a former Soviet Republic. Maybe that’s more than the average American can do.

When it comes to the Azerbaijan national soccer team, I know even less. (Well, at least that was the case before I prepared to write this article.) Even amongst the most educated fans of the game in this part of the world, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who has ever seen the team play, let alone anyone who could name a single player on its roster.

More confusingly, as alluded to above, the most recognizable soccer team in the world that bears jerseys reading “AZERBAIJAN” across the front is not, in fact, Azerbaijan. That would be the aforementioned Spanish professional club Atletico Madrid, which has a multi-year sponsorship agreement that promotes tourism to Azerbaijan. The club’s recent run to the UEFA Champions League final has done its part to bring greater notoriety to the small Caspian Sea nation.

On Tuesday night at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, the USMNT begins its pre-World Cup “Send Off Series” with an International Friendly against the actual national team of Azerbaijan. The match features perhaps the unlikeliest pair of opponents you can find on the schedule. Perhaps it’s perversely fitting that this oddball matchup is being held at venue set for demolition in a matter of months.

Berti Vogts and Jurgen Klinsmann in a 1997 German training session. (RTR Photo)

Berti Vogts and Jurgen Klinsmann in a 1997 German training session. (RTR Photo)

Why Azerbaijan? The connection begins and ends with Berti Vogts, the team’s head coach since 2008. Vogts and USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann  have a long history together. Vogts coached the German national team from 1990-98, a period coinciding with the last 8 years of Klinsmann’s international career, most notably winning the 1996 European Championship together.

Less than two months ago, Klinsmann named Vogts as special assistant to the U.S. national team. Interestingly, Vogts brings very specific recent coaching experience against each of the USMNT’s upcoming Group G opponents. During his tenure with Azerbaijan, his team faced Portugal twice during 2014 World Cup Qualification, and faced Germany twice during Euro 2012 Qualification. Additionally, prior to taking the Azarbaijan job, Vogts served a short stint as Nigeria’s head coach, during which time he managed against Ghana in the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations.

Klinsmann’s hope is that Vogts’ firsthand knowledge will be useful in preparing his own team for Brazil. So an arrangement was worked out with the Azerbaijan federation; Vogts will advise Klinsmann and serve as a key scout for the U.S. ahead of this summer’s World Cup, but will remain as head coach of Azerbaijan, including coaching the team against the USMNT Tuesday night. The scheduling of the match was a bargaining chip in the agreement between the two national sides.

From a U.S. perspective, Azerbaijan is a blip on the upcoming schedule; a relative minnow in the soccer world, a mere warm-up before moving on to face the more accomplished national squads of Turkey and Nigeria. For the Azerbaijanis, on the other hand, this match is a massive opportunity against a highly ranked opponent.

Azerbaijan has never qualified for a major championship in its brief 23-year history as an independent nation. It has never reached a World Cup nor a European Championship, so its infrequent clashes with teams as strong as the United States are big events across this small Caucacus nation.

Things are looking up for the “Milli” (translation: “The National Team”), as they’re affectionately called by their home supporters. Under the direction of Berti Vogts, Azerbaijan has achieved its highest FIFA ranking ever, up to 85th in the May 2014 edition. Occupying a spot in the top half of the (currently) 209-member list is only a very recently achieved milestone.

Azerbaijan collected respectable results during 2014 World Cup Qualifying. Drawn into a group with Russia, Portugal, Israel, Northern Ireland and Luxembourg, the team finished fourth, earning 9 points in 10 matches with a 1-6-3 record. More impressive was the defensive prowess displayed in only surrendering a total of 11 goals. Perhaps unsurprising for a team coached by Vogts, who first made his name as a standout defender, helping lead West Germany to the 1974 World Cup title, as well as winning 5 Bundesliga titles with Borussia Mönchengladbach.

Vagif Javadov can beat you if you let him. Just ask Russia.

Vagif Javadov can beat you if you let him. Just ask Russia.

The signature WCQ result for Azerbaijan came in the group stage finale against eventual group winner Russia. Despite falling behind early 1:0 and playing with ten men after a 73rd minute red card, the Milli weathered the storm from its neighboring powerhouse and stayed within a goal. The Russian defense was caught ball-watching on a 90th minute free kick, when forward Vagif Javadov connected a header off a looping cross into the box, finding the back of the net, tying the match and sending the home crowd into delirium.

Even Ronaldo couldn't score against Azerbaijan.

A frustrated Ronaldo couldn’t score against Azerbaijan.

Also of note: in the two matches against Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo did not score. In fairness, he missed one match due to suspension. But in the return match, Azerbaijan held Portugal scoreless for 65 minutes before the deadlock was broken. Two late goals stretched the final margin to 3:0, but the 2013 Ballon D’Or winner never broke through. If Vogts helped find a way for Azerbaijan to contain Ronaldo, surely there’s hope for a successful American game plan.

Azerbaijan’s defensive success hasn’t come without a fair dose of aggression. Too often, that aggression has gone too far and crossed the line into violent play. During the 2014 WCQ group stage, Azerbaijan was punished with 3 red cards in 10 games. Something for the USMNT to beware of; the Azerbaijanis will be ramped up for this game, and there’s a track record of being unable to keep those emotions under proper control. Escaping this match injury-free will be one of the most desirable outcomes for Klinsmann’s team.

Azerbaijan’s roster is primarily one drawn from its top domestic league, the Azerbaijan Premier League. UEFA’s coefficient currently ranks it 32nd out of 54 European leagues. It’s obviously quite far behind the level of the top leagues, but slowly and steadily creeping up the pecking order.

Team captain Rashad Sadygov is Azerbaijan’s most capped player in the team’s history. Still in his prime at age 31, he’s the backbone in central defense. Sadygov has had two ill-fated stints with clubs in the more prestigious Turkish Super Lig, one of which was due to injury. One strange note to his career: He spent the 2006 season playing for a local pro basketball club in order to stay fit, after somehow missing a registration deadline to be remain eligible for soccer.

Forward Vagif Javadov isn’t an internationally recognized player by any means, but he did once sign a long-term contract with FC Twente of the Dutch Eredivisie. Unfortunately, injuries ended that dream before he made a single appearance in Holland. He later signed with Volga of the Russian Premier League, only to return to Azerbaijan after a half-season with zero goals. Still just 25 years old, Javadov is a bit of a cult hero at home in Azerbaijan. Not only did he score the dramatic tying goal against Russia last year, but he managed the exact same feat in a 1:1 draw against Russia during 2010 World Cup Qualification. With 9 international goals, he is Azerbaijan’s active career leader.

Bursting on the scene more recently is young forward Rufat Dadashov. At 22, Dadashov is one of the few Azerbaijani players playing professionally in a foreign league. He’s currently with 1. FC Kaiserslautern II, the reserve side for a parent club that has spent most of its history in the German Bundesliga. Dadashov has scored four international goals over the past year with just 11 caps to his name. Azerbaijan has only scored 12 total goals as a team during that time.

Another playing generating much excitement locally is Elvin Yunuszade. The 21-year-old center back made his senior team debut just two months ago in a friendly vs. the Philippines. He celebrated that occasion by scoring the winning goal. That performance was rewarded with a second call-up and a trip to California to face the United States.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there’s midfielder Ruslan Abishov, who almost by default is considered Azerbaijan’s best player. Abishov lines up primarily as a defender for Rubin Kazan of the Russian Premier League, and is the only Azerbaijani player at a high profile club outside of Azerbaijan. Playing for a club that regularly appears in UEFA Champions League pretty strongly trumps all other claims. Vogts has typically deployed Abishov as defensive midfielder, where his creative ability proves more useful in jumpstarting Azerbaijan’s limited attacking prowess.

Meanwhile, the Azerbaijanis are also busy preparing for their next challenge: Euro 2016 Qualification. The expanded 24-team format raises new hope for a smaller footballing nation like Azerbaijan. Its Group H qualifying mates are Italy, Croatia, Norway, Bulgaria and Malta. The top two will qualify directly, with the third place finisher entering a playoff round. Attaining that third spot will be Azerbaijan’s big 2016 dream.

It’s a daunting task, but the 2014 WCQ campaign leaves reason for optimism. Surely Italy and Croatia live in a different stratosphere. The others? Well, perhaps now more reachable than ever. Malta is an eternal minnow. Once-proud Bulgaria has been on the decline, last week even drawing 1:1 with lowly Canada, a team that only scored 1 goal in all of 2013. Norway is another team headed in the wrong direction, falling as low as 60th in recent FIFA rankings, barely edging out Albania for 4th place in its 2014 WCQ group. All things considered, Azerbaijan has good reason to be bullish on its soccer future.

***************************************************************************************************

So what does this all mean for the USMNT heading into Tuesday night? In truth, not a whole lot. It’s a game the Americans are expected to win, and win handily. Azerbaijan struggles to create quality scoring chances, but like any club that packs numbers defensively, is dangerous on the counterattack. It’ll be a good test of the USMNT’s back line organization, since we’re all but certain to see a foursome that hasn’t played together as a unit. As a team, disciplined marking on set pieces must be consistent. Even against a team with the limited attacking capabilities of Azerbaijan, a momentary lapse can lead to disaster.

Remain calm and patient against that Azerbaijan defense, Clint & Jozy. The goals will come.

Remain calm and patient against that tightly packed Azerbaijan defense, guys. The goals will come.

On the offensive side of the ball, patience will be tested. If the game goes to halftime scoreless, it’s important that Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore don’t get frustrated and take unnecessary yellow cards. The chances will continue to come, but it might take a while to find the breakthrough.

The end result for the USMNT matters much less in this game than the overall quality of play. There will be players in the starting XI who haven’t played competitive matches together before. This game represents a perfect opportunity to gain that familiarity, and for coaches to recognize quickly if certain combinations aren’t working. For example, if Timothy Chandler starts at right back, how quickly does he develop an understanding playing behind Graham Zusi or Alejandro Bedoya?

At minimum, it would be a disappointment if the U.S. fails to keep a clean sheet. This team also has the attacking talent to find the holes in the Azerbaijan defense. If the patience is there to find the first goal, the second and third ones should quickly follow.

Jurgen Klinsmann has proven himself unpredictable with his choices for the 23-man roster. Projecting a starting lineup in this match might be futile, but I’ll give it a whirl nonetheless. The goalkeeper and forwards are easy calls. The rest is anyone’s guess. Here’s mine:

GK: Tim Howard

D: Fabian Johnson, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, DaMarcus Beasley

M: Graham Zusi, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Alejandro Bedoya

F: Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore

Johnson has been playing exclusively on defense during camp so far, mostly on the right side. That’s exactly where he played the latter portion of the Bundesliga season with Hoffenheim, so I see Klinsmann giving him a run out there. Omar Gonzalez may not have quite lost the starting CB job, but he’s also still not 100% recovered from a recent knee injury. Cameron’s been playing CB in camp and that’s where Klinsmann prefers him. I could easily see Bedoya on the right wing over Zusi; it’s close, but Bedoya’s greater versatility allows him to switch to the left. Kyle Beckerman has been impressive and looked great partnering with Bradley against Mexico, but remember that Jermaine Jones is part of Klinsmann’s so-called “spine.” I think Jones still gets the starting nod.

There may not be any broad conclusions to be drawn from the lineup choices to start this game. We’ll be able to tell a lot more when we see how those choices change next Sunday against Turkey.

The United States kicks off against Azerbaijan on Tuesday night, May 27, 10:00 ET, ESPN2, UniMas, WatchESPN.

Klinsmann’s ‘Youth Movement': Four Players Age 31+ Make World Cup Debuts

2014 USMNT Roster: Youth Will Be Served?

2014 USMNT Roster: Youth Will Be Served?

by Roderick MacNeil

Landon Donovan, at age 32, widely considered to be the greatest soccer player in American history, is out of the 2014 World Cup.

Julian Green (age 18), DeAndre Yedlin (age 20) and John Brooks (age 21) have all been named to Jurgen Klinsmann’s Final 23-man Roster.

The popular narrative goes something like this: Klinsmann’s decision indicate a clear “youth movement.” The coach’s star recruit, Green, has supplanted the legendary Donovan, with an eye as much, if not more so, toward Russia 2018 as Brazil 2014. The old guard is on the way out, the kids are taking over.

Except that narrative is woefully misguided.

A more honest look at the full roster reveals a trend in direct conflict with that gross oversimplification. Klinsmann has selected four (FOUR!) players over the age of 31 that will be appearing in their first World Cups. All four have spent their entire professional careers in Major League Soccer:

1. Chris Wondolowski, 31, Forward (San Jose Earthquakes)
2. Brad Davis, 32, Midfielder (Houston Dynamo)
3. Kyle Beckerman, 32, Midfielder (Real Salt Lake)
4. Nick Rimando, 34, Goalkeeper (Real Salt Lake)

That’s a rather interesting method of engineering a youth movement.

Much of the roster-aftermath discussion has centered on the selection of Green contrasted against the omission of Donovan. The inconvenient truth with this comparison is that several of the “older” players listed above were in direct competition with Donovan for roster positions.

Brad Davis is a player who slots almost exclusively at left midfield. In the Klinsmann era, Donovan has most often lined up as a wide midfielder, usually on the left. It’s not easily forgotten that Davis started ahead of Donovan in the USMNT’s last match, just six weeks ago vs. Mexico. It’s been well documented that Davis offers quality left-footed set piece service, and there’s little debate that Davis is a more active and effective defensive player than Donovan at this point in their respective careers.

Then there’s Chris Wondolowski. On the preliminary 30-man roster, Donovan was listed as a forward. Klinsmann has made statements supporting this revised view of Donovan as a forward. The implication is clear: in Klinsmann’s view, Donovan no longer has the pace to function as a winger in his system, which features fullbacks charging forward aggressively, while requiring significant defensive cover and pace from the overlapped wingers. As a forward, Donovan wouldn’t be a potential defensive liability. If these decisions were based on a complete body of work, Donovan clearly trumps Wondo, no contest. That’s not the case for Klinsmann, so Wondo got the nod.

Need more evidence that these decisions aren’t all about youth? Again we look to Mr. Wondolowski. Lost in the hubbub over the Donovan decision is the fact that Wondo was also selected ahead of the hottest goalscorer on the preliminary roster. That would be 23-year-old Terrence Boyd, who just completed a 20-goal season with Rapid Vienna, included a run of 6 goals in his last 4 matches. Boyd will be in the mix for 2018. Wondo most assuredly won’t be. Yet Klinsmann chose the much older forward, the one he prefers for right now.

What about 23-year-old Joe Corona? Nope, no room on this roster for him either. But the midfield contingent does include the afforementioned Davis, Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones. All are age 32.

How about the goalkeeping corps? Tim Howard, at age 35, has confirmed this will be his last World Cup. Nick Rimando is headed to Brazil as the third string keeper. The chances he sees even a minute of action in this World Cup are next to nil. At age 34, it’s fair to say the same about any future World Cup for Rimando. But rather than bring along a younger keeper, perhaps Sean Johnson (24) or Bill Hamid (23), who have both received frequent call-ups during Klinsmann’s tenure, the choice this summer is Rimando. He’s on the plane because he’s proven he is currently the third best keeper available, regardless of how he projects for the next cycle.

There’s no denying that the selections of Green, Yedlin and Brooks represent bold, and to various extents, surprising choices. With a combined 6 caps between them, they are all relatively unknown quantities to USMNT fans. But they are on this team because Klinsmann believes they give the United States the best chance for success next month, not 48 months from now. Whether he’s right remains to be seen.

Bringing along too much youth and inexperience may yet prove to be part of Klinsmann’s madness. But it’s most definitely not his method. He knows there are no throwaway World Cups.