Three thoughts on the U.S. men's national team squad list for Wednesday's friendly at Russia (10 a.m. ET, ESPN2/3, Univision) ...
1. Timmy Chandler says he's committed, but there's still reason for skepticism. The game itself on Wednesday isn't a big deal, but the return of the German-American Chandler is a promising piece of news for the U.S. A 22-year-old right-sided player with speed who plays for Nürnberg in the Bundesliga, Chandler hasn't suited up for the U.S. in a year as he wavered in his commitment to the U.S. team, refusing to accept call-ups to any official (non-friendly) games that would tie him to the U.S. for good. This game won't either, but Chandler now says he's committed "1,000 percent" to the Stars & Stripes. Given Chandler's previous waffling, it's wise to keep your skepticism until he finally appears in an official game for the U.S., which couldn't happen until the next World Cup qualifier at Honduras on February 6. If Chandler really ends up being on board, he's a player who could start at World Cup 2014 in Brazil.
2. Jozy Altidore is back. It now appears that U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann was making a short-term statement to Altidore by not calling him up for last month's two World Cup qualifiers, as Klinsmann himself is saying. But until today's call-up, it was reasonable to wonder if bridges had been burned between Klinsmann and the 23-year-old striker who has nine goals in seven league games in Holland this season. Not so, apparently. Altidore scored a fantastic goal for AZ Alkmaar over the weekend and is playing with confidence. Now he just needs to translate it to the national team, for which he has no goals and one assist in six games this year.
3. Say hello to some young guys. This is a FIFA friendly date, so clubs only have to release their players 48 hours before the game, after which they'll fly back to their teams immediately for games this weekend. With such a short camp, Klinsmann hasn't called up some established-but-tired players (Clint Dempsey, Steve Cherundolo, Graham Zusi, etc.) or players involved in the MLS or Liga MX playoffs (Landon Donovan, Eddie Johnson, Joe Corona, etc.). That's fine, in part because it gave Klinsmann the chance to bring in prospects like Josh Gatt, Joe Gyau, Mix Diskerud and Juan Agudelo. They may not play in the game on Wednesday, but just being in training sessions and around the national team is a good thing for everyone.
While U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan isn't in this camp, it shouldn't take away from the fact that U.S. fans are more comfortable these days if No. 1 goalkeeper Tim Howard were to suffer some sort of injury. The 28-year-old Guzan is the U.S.' clear No. 2, and he's enjoying a rewarding spell at Aston Villa that includes nine straight Premier League starts and the team's player of the month award for October.
"You want to be playing week in and week out," said Guzan, who has won the starting job from Shay Given at Villa this season. "For me to have an opportunity to play a few games and do well and keep my place, it gives me a bit of confidence to keep that going."
There were more than a few raised eyebrows last summer when Guzan decided to sign a new contract with Villa after starting just six league games with the club in his first four seasons. But Guzan said he had a fruitful meeting with new manager Paul Lambert, who was clear that Guzan would be given the chance to earn the starting job.
"We had a good conversation," Guzan said. "Any time a new manager comes in, everyone kind of starts fresh. He emphasized everyone was going to have a fair crack at things. I still felt I had something to give to the club and I hadn't been able to show my work the first four years, due partly because I wasn't given a run of consecutive games. That's what you need, that run of games to say, 'OK, this is what I can do.'"
Villa is a young team that's rebuilding and trying to do so while staying above the drop zone; with a 2-6-3 record the club is currently fourth from bottom. On Saturday, Guzan and mates looked to be on the verge of a signature win, building a 2-0 lead against Manchester United, but the league leaders pulled three back in the second half in a crushing 3-2 loss for Villa.
"I thought the guys were fantastic in terms of our work rate and effort, but that's what makes Man United Man United," Guzan said. "It's a tough one to swallow. You put so much into the game, especially being up 2-0 in a game where we at least deserved a draw, I thought. But the effort we put in is a good sign. I thought the football we played was really good at times."
As for the U.S., Howard has been the No. 1 keeper for so long without any clear rivals that I asked Guzan a question: Now that you're starting regularly in the Premier League, how close do you feel is the competition that would put you in a position to win the No. 1 spot for the U.S.?
"To be honest, I don't even think about that," Guzan said. "Going into the summer, I had a lot of questions to answer in the sense of where I was going to be playing -- and, once that got sorted, to get games and play consistently. For me, any time with the national [team] is a fantastic experience. You want to be representing your country and the highest level, and I don't get caught up in trying to win the No. 1 shirt. It's a matter of playing consistently at Villa, and if I get called into [U.S.] camp I'll try and make an impression on the coaching staff and help the team."