Despite the challenge ahead – the U.S. will travel to Europe to meet Denmark on Wednesday and 12th-ranked Switzerland on March 31 – national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann continues to balance short-term needs with long-term development. The CONCACAF Gold Cup is coming up this summer, but there’s still a future to plan and a foundation to build. Klinsmann’s latest U.S. roster, announced Sunday afternoon, is another testament to the pursuit of that balance.
The Americans snapped a five-game winless streak with January’s 2-0 win over Panama and would love to establish a wining tone ahead of the Gold Cup. But there are signs throughout Klinsmann’s roster that he’s looking at more than just the upcoming friendlies. There is youth and inexperience on this team. He left out veterans like Geoff Cameron in order to cultivate greater depth. The manager also clearly believes that certain players who may be out of peak form will benefit more from international inclusion than exclusion. The likes of Julian Green and DeAndre Yedlin haven’t done the sort of work lately that begs for an international call-up, but they remain exciting prospects. The mismatched calendar also continues to pose challenges. Klinsmann’s concerns about the offseason fitness of MLS players likely haven’t been alleviated less than a month into the season. There are only six on the 23-man roster (plus Miguel Ibarra, who plays for Minnesota United of the second-tier NASL).
"From a senior level, there are many different factors coming together schedule-wise with MLS just starting, and Europe and Mexico in full swing. We also wanted to see what specific players there are that were not connected yet with us ... It’s a very competitive group that we have together for those two friendlies against two very good opponents," Klinsmann said in an interview posted on U.S. Soccer's website.
"We want to work on a couple of things with these two games with Denmark and a very strong Switzerland. We want to prove that we can really compete with these guys in their countries, in their homes and get results there. We want to see that the players give everything they have in terms of making their own cases for the Gold Cup, because the Gold Cup obviously should take us to the Confederations Cup 2017 in Russia, so we need to be spot on."
Here’s a look at Klinsmann’s team for the matches against Denmark and Switzerland.
Goalkeepers: Cody Cropper (Southampton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), William Yarbrough (Club León)
While Brad Guzan, 30, remains the very early favorite to man the nets in 2018, Klinsmann has left the Aston Villa star off the team this time as he and his wife prepare for the birth of their first child. Instead, the U.S. will head to Europe with veteran Nick Rimando and two uncapped goalkeepers, Cody Cropper and William Yarbrough. Rimando’s inclusion is a testament to his consistent excellence but at 35, his long-term international future remains in question. And while MLS stalwarts Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson appear to lead the generational pack behind Guzan, Klinsmann has opted to leave them with their MLS clubs this month.
Cropper, 22, already has been called into camp several times and apparently will continue to train with the senior squad despite his Olympic eligibility. The Minnesota native played at the FIFA U-20 World Cup two years ago.
Yarbrough, 26, is brand new to the program. While it’s not unusual for Americans with Mexican ancestry to play for the U.S., Yarbrough represents an intriguing twist. Born and raised Aguascalientes, about 300 miles northwest of Mexico City, he is the son of Texan missionaries who settled south of the border. Yarbrough spent his entire career in Mexico, first with Pachuca as a youth player and now with Club León, which he backstopped to consecutive Liga MX titles in 2013-14.
Yarbrough hasn’t represented his native country and Mexico coach Miguel Herrera told reporters recently, “There are eight goalkeepers the same level as Yarbrough in Mexico.” Klinsmann apparently has a higher opinion of the player. Yarbrough said last week that the U.S. coach first contacted him several weeks ago and that he is “very thankful to Klinsmann for tracking me.”
Yarbrough continued, “I want to take full advantage of this opportunity …. Independent of how many goalkeepers there may be [ahead of me], I'm not scared of competing."
Klinsmann told U.S. Soccer’s website, “We had a close look at him. I had people go to his games. I called him myself and talked to him at length to see where his head is and he was thrilled. When you watch him closer as a specific kind of goalkeeper talent he’s very vocal. He’s very determined. He’s given the talent to lead. He’s a good communicator and just dedicated. You see it in his body language and the energy that he has, but also if he concedes a goal how he moves on. He gets the ball out of the net and says, ‘No big deal.’ He claps his teammate on the shoulder and says, ‘Let’s go, we’ll fix it.’ So he has a very positive nature and so it’s exciting for us to have William now within our group for these 10 days and get to know him better and work with him. At the end we’ll ask Chris Woods, our goalkeeper coach, a lot of questions about all of his specifics as a goalkeeper.”
Defenders: Ventura Alvarado (Club América), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Greg Garza (Club Tijuana), Michael Orozco (Puebla), Tim Ream (Bolton Wanderers), Brek Shea (Orlando City), DeAndre Yedlin (Tottenham Hotspur)
The fact that Shea is the only MLS call-up among the defenders demonstrates just how committed Klinsmann is to the player’s transition from attacking winger/forward to left back. Shea has started Orlando’s season in defense and will continue to be brought along with the national team. Klinsmann’s faith in Shea, who scored in January’s 3-2 loss to Chile, remains unshakeable.
Alvarado, 22, is from Phoenix and signed with Liga MX power Club América back in 2008. The center back has emerged as a regular starter over the past year and is another dual-national who appears set to cast his international lot with Klinsmann. This is his first U.S. call-up.
Yedlin has yet to break through at Spurs and hasn’t played well in recent U.S. appearances, but Klinsmann feels time with the national team can only help.
“DeAndre Yedlin, you’ve got to kick somebody out of Tottenham to play there,” Klinsmann said when discussing players who aren’t yet at the top of their club’s depth chart. “It’s not only what happens on the field. It’s also what happens off the field. You have young players getting in a different environment, struggling maybe with a new country with a new club environment, so we’re also there to help them develop.”
The most surprising omission is Stoke City’s Cameron, who’s now one of the national team’s most consistent yet versatile defenders.
“Geoff is obviously in a good swing with Stoke City and the Premier League, but I had long conversations with him and explained that just now I would love see other players coming in and proving to us how good they are,” Klinsmann explained. “So here and there, there are these 50-50 decisions where you have to leave a player out that is usually a regular on your team. Geoff is that one right now.”
Midfielders: Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Julian Green (Hamburger SV), Miguel Ibarra (Minnesota United), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt), Danny Williams (Reading), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
Bradley, who remains vital to the national team, and Zardes, who showed immense promise in January, are the only MLS midfield inclusions. Bradley will miss Toronto’s match at Real Salt Lake on March 29 and Zardes will miss LA’s visit to D.C. United.
Bedoya continues to be the standard bearer for U.S.-born midfielders abroad and Johnson has been playing well at Mönchengladbach. He should make his first U.S. appearance since November. Their consistency, along with that of Williams at Reading, sits in contrast to the plummeting fortunes of Green. From scoring with his first touch in Brazil to the bench, reserve team, and perhaps the doghouse at HSV, Green has struggled to negotiate his World Cup hangover.
Klinsman addressed the issue Sunday.
“For Julian, it’s important that he has reconnected with us,” he said. “At the moment Julian struggles with Hamburg. It’s been a very, very difficult time since he came back after the World Cup, with injuries and not breaking in yet, so I decided to have a first look at him. We will have a serious talk and serious look at him and we want to understand exactly what happened in his club situation, but also he needs some support from the senior national team group."
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Aron Jóhannsson (AZ Alkmaar), Rubio Rubin (Utrecht)
Altidore and Dempsey have enjoyed solid starts to their MLS seasons. Each has two goals so far. They remain the top forwards in the U.S. pool.
Jóhannsson hasn’t played for the national team since the opening match of the World Cup. He’s struggled with injuries since, but has returned to the AZ lineup and started the past two games. The 24-year-old has scored five Eredivisie goals this season, including three in the past couple months.
“The moment he gets on the field he finds ways to score and that’s what a goal-scorer is all about. So getting him back into the group is exciting for us as well,” Klinsmann said.
Rubin has three goals this season for Utrecht.
The U.S. also unveiled a U-23 roster on Sunday. Coach Andi Herzog will manage the team against the U-23s from Bosnia and Herzegovina on March 27 and Denmark on March 31. CONCACAF’s Olympic qualifying tournament is scheduled for October.
Goalkeepers: Charlie Horton (Cardiff City), Tyler Miller (SVN Zweibrücken)
Defenders: Christian Dean (Vancouver Whitecaps), Juan Pablo Ocegueda (Alebrijes de Oaxaca), Shane O’Neill (Colorado Rapids), Will Packwood (Birmingham City), Oscar Sorto (LA Galaxy)
Midfielders: Fatai Alashe (San Jose Earthquakes), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Benji Joya (Chicago Fire), Ariel Lassiter (LA Galaxy II), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew)
Forwards: Alonso Hernandez (Monterrey), Jerome Kiesewetter (VfB Stuttgart), Alfred Koroma Shams (Internacional), Jordan Morris (Stanford University), Mario Rodriguez (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Khiry Shelton (New York City FC)