The U.S. national team will face its toughest test since the World Cup, and finalize its preparation for July’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, with a squad absent some of the program’s most recognizable and productive players.
The team that coach Jurgen Klinsmann will take to face the Netherlands, the World Cup bronze medalist, on June 5 and then champion Germany on June 10 will be missing forwards Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, midfielder Alejandro Bedoya and defenders Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, among others. Eight of the 22 players named Sunday afternoon have 10 caps or fewer. There are no new names. The less experienced players called in are those in whom Klinsmann already has invested.
“Our time since the World Cup has been a transition period which now winds down before the Gold Cup,” Klinsmann said. “Playing against top teams like Germany and the Netherlands provides valuable experience, especially for the younger players here. More and more, they must understand we come to meet these opponents eye to eye. Obviously it’s a bit tricky when we are without some of our core players, but that creates a huge opportunity for the guys here to benchmark themselves against some of the best players in the world.”
The sixth-ranked Dutch and world champion Germans indeed are loaded with talent, but they haven’t spent much time together in 2015. While the U.S. is 2-2-1 this year, the Netherlands and Germany have played only two games each. They’re both using the U.S. to prepare for European Championship qualifiers against continental lightweights. The Dutch will play Latvia on June 12 and the Germans will visit Gibraltar the following day.
Likewise, Klinsmann is searching for chemistry. He’s shuffled and reshuffled his roster since the World Cup, starting in a 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1 or 3-5-2 while using 38 players in the five matches this year. Some of that is due to the “transition period” he referenced. But as Sunday’s announcement attests, it’s also out of necessity. Life, club coaches and injuries have intervened frequently, and Klinsmann hasn’t had much luck in accessing his entire player pool at once.
As a result, the U.S. will face two very stiff tests in Europe. Here’s a closer look at Klinsmann’s team.
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), William Yarbrough (Club León)
It appears Yarbrough, the 26-year-old Mexican-born son of American parents, has taken over the No. 3 spot from D.C. United’s Bill Hamid, the reigning MLS goalkeeper of the year. A two-time Liga MX champion with León, Yarbrough made his U.S. debut in the 1-1 draw with Switzerland two months ago and then came on in relief in April’s 2-0 defeat of Mexico. He’s yielded one goal. Hamid hasn’t played for the U.S. since November.
Guzan remains the No. 1 goalkeeper, but he’s coming off a rough end to the season with Aston Villa, where he lost his starting job last month. He was on the bench for Villa’s final five games, including Saturday’s 4-0 FA Cup final loss to Arsenal. He also missed the U.S. friendlies in March for the birth of his first child and hasn’t played for the national team in six months.
“He will be the starter in the Gold Cup,” Klinsmann said of Guzan. “Even if he had some tough weeks at Aston Villa where suddenly the coach for whatever reason decided to put him behind Shay Given. That surprised us big time, but he fights through that and he will be sharp and hungry for the long summer.”
Rimando, who will turn 36 in June, keeps chugging along. He’s started all five U.S. friendlies in 2015.
Defenders: Ventura Alvarado (Club América), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Michael Orozco (Puebla), Brek Shea (Orlando City), DeAndre Yedlin (Tottenham Hotspur)
One would think that Cameron, Gonzalez and Besler would be locks for a team preparing for the Gold Cup, but they’ve been omitted. The latter two are healthy. Cameron, who just signed a new deal at Stoke City, has played for the U.S. just once since the World Cup and according to reports has been dealing with a nagging injury. Gonzalez and Besler, meanwhile, have a combined three caps in 2015. They’ll remain with the LA Galaxy and Sporting Kansas City, respectively.
Klinsmann clearly is a fan of the imposing Brooks, who started the friendlies in Denmark and Switzerland, and the promise of Alvarado, who’s played in the past three U.S. games. Orozco started in Denmark and Switzerland but isn’t an obvious upgrade over Besler or Gonzalez.
Yedlin and Shea bring the speed, range and daring that Klinsmann likes to see from his outside backs. Shea is a regular in Orlando but Yedlin has seen only 11 first-team minutes at Tottenham since joining up in January. Chandler, who rarely seems to fit in with the national team, just keeps hanging around. Evans offers experience and versatility.
Other noteworthy omissions are Bolton Wanderers’ stalwart Tim Ream, who was called up in March, and Club Tijuana left back Greg Garza, who appeared to be one of Klinsmann’s top choices for the position several months ago. Garza missed Xolos’ May 9 finale with an injury.
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Miguel Ibarra (Minnesota United), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Jermaine Jones (New England Revolution), Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt), Danny Williams (Reading)
Michael Bradley and Fabian Johnson are the class of the group and likely will be relied upon heavily in Amsterdam and Cologne. As usual, the intrigue will revolve around how Klinsmann uses Bradley and with whom the TFC star is paired.
Williams, who returned to the national team in March, and the veteran Beckerman provide quality defensive cover if Klinsmann pushes Bradley forward. Beckerman may be especially useful against two high-octane opponents, although Klinsmann continues to stress his preference for a proactive game. It’s also worth noting that Jones is listed in midfield on this roster and not on defense, where he’s played in his two U.S. appearances this year. The 33-year-old certainly is still capable of making an impression.
“He’s going to be back in midfield because of the fact that we have so many high-quality center backs,” Klinsmann said of Jones. “We also talked with his club coach and we are both on the same page there. He will be back in his No. 6 or No. 8 role, wherever he fits best.”
Jones exited Sunday evening's New England-LA game with a groin injury. [Editor's Note: Jones has since been ruled out of the two matches.]
Considering Bedoya’s absence (he’s nursing an injured knee) and where the strength in the U.S. midfield lies, it seems likely Bradley will be deployed a bit higher. Diskerud is capable of a spectacular play or two but typically lacks a 90-minute presence. He’s been inconsistent with expansion New York City FC. Ibarra remains a project. He has two goals and two assists in eight NASL games for Minnesota.
Johnson likely will play on the left flank, where he’s been starting for UEFA Champions League-bound Mönchengladbach. Klinsmann called him “one of their best players.” The U.S. right appears wide open. It could be Diskerud, Ibarra or Morales. Either Yedlin or Shea could push up or Gyasi Zardes, a forward, might come back. The options are plentiful and the tinkering will continue.
A notable omission, if only because of his current form, is Benny Feilhaber. The playmaker is performing at an MVP level and has four goals and seven assists this season for Kansas City, but he hasn’t been in Klinsmann’s plans since the start of 2014. New England’s Lee Nguyen, an MLS MVP finalist in 2014, appears to have slipped from the picture as well. World Cup starter Graham Zusi also was omitted.
Forwards: Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Aron Jóhannsson (AZ Alkmaar), Bobby Wood (1860 Munich), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
Dempsey and Altidore are big losses, especially against opponents like these.
Dempsey, who entered Sunday’s game against the New York Red Bulls with seven goals and five assists for the Western Conference-leading Seattle Sounders, will remain home in anticipation of the birth of his fourth child. Altidore had six goals in nine appearances for Toronto FC before hurting his hamstring on May 16. He’s expected be healthy in time for the Gold Cup.
Together, the two have scored a combined 67 international goals. Only one other active international player called up in the past 12 months has reached double digits (Bradley).
The upcoming friendlies present an outstanding opportunity for Jóhannsson to finally cement his place. Injuries have dogged the skillful striker, whose ability to create his own chances and beat defenders in tight spaces is something the U.S. needs more of. Jóhannsson’s only appearance since the World Cup opener was against Denmark in March, and he scored a goal on the back end of a fantastic play set up by Bradley and Altidore. Jóhannsson then missed the Switzerland game with an infection. But he finished his club campaign in good form, scoring four goals in his final three games at AZ to conclude the Eredivisie season with nine.
Agudelo has four goals for the New England Revolution and scored in the Americans’ 2-0 win over Mexico last month. It was his first goal in a U.S. jersey since 2011. The other scorer that evening, Stanford University junior Jordan Morris, is with the U.S. U-23 team in France.
Chris Wondolowski, who’s second in MLS with eight goals, was left behind. He’s played twice for Klinsmann this year.
“The topic of strikers for us is a huge one,” the coach said. “Obviously we have Jozy that we rely on, and Clint who has done this job for so many years, but we need the next generation of strikers to come in and score goals on a consistent basis. The key message to our young talented strikers is you have to score consistently. You can’t ever get satisfied. They need to have a ratio where they score at least a goal every third game. That’s what you expect from an international-caliber striker.”