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:
Brad Guzan (Aston Villa) – He’s competing for the #1 job and will relish every opportunity
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
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
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:
Bill Hamid (DC United) – Arguably DC’s season MVP, and eager to inject himself into the starting GK race
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.
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:
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?
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
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
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
Both Matches (13):
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
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.