Klinsmann picks an experimental roster for Bosnia-Herzegovina match
Jurgen Klinsmann isn't going to let a trivial matter like the calendar or a lengthy flight derail his pursuit of novel ways to challenge the U.S. national team.
FIFA's standalone August international date is cumbersome: MLS playoff races are heating up, and Mexican and European leagues are on the threshold of a new season. It's not an ideal time to remove players from their club environment.
The coaches of Honduras, Panama and Jamaica, all among Klinsmann's rivals in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, which resumes next month, are skipping this week's window altogether. Costa Rica is playing in the Dominican Republic and Mexico will entertain Ivory Coast in another home-away-from-home friendly in East Rutherford, NJ.
And Klinsmann? The manager who has no interest in the easy road is taking his team to Sarajevo, where the U.S. will meet up-and-coming Bosnia-Herzegovina on Wednesday. It will be the first match between the teams.
A FIFA member since 1996, Bosnia has yet to qualify for the finals of a major tournament. But the Dragons are hitting their stride in 2013. They're 5-0-1 in World Cup qualifiers, ranked 13th by FIFA and feature talented players like Manchester City striker Edin Džeko, AS Roma playmaker Miralem Pjanić and VfB Stuttgart forward Vedad Ibišević, who spent time at Saint Louis University and in the Chicago Fire's reserve ranks.
For Klinsmann, it's just what the doctor ordered.
"We are very excited about starting the World Cup year with a friendly here in Bosnia against one of the top nations in Europe," he told U.S. Soccer's Web site on Monday. "These are top-class players and that's what we like to go against. We want to have the highest benchmark to always measure ourselves up against. We also want to see the new faces in our group and take that opportunity of getting a couple interesting answers on specific players."
Among those players likely to be under Klinsmann's microscope are forward Eddie Johnson and jack-of-all-trades Brad Evans -- both of the Seattle Sounders -- and Club Tijuana's Joe Corona and Edgar Castillo. They're the only members of the roster announced Monday who've been asked to leave their clubs and fly across an ocean. Surely there's a reason. Their roles in September's World Cup qualifiers, or perhaps their long-term future on a team that almost certainly will head to Brazil next summer, may be influenced by their performance Wednesday's friendly.
It's an interesting group of 23, one that fans won't ever see again. It features four uncapped players and two young and coveted dual nationals -- forward Aron Johannsson and defender John Anthony Brooks -- who have cast their international lot with the U.S.
Klinsmann will have only a couple of days with his team and won't have time to fashion much in the way of a tactical system. Instead, Wednesday's game will offer an intriguing look at how specific individuals handle themselves in a challenging environment against a quality opponent.
Here's a look at Klinsmann's 23-man roster:
Goalkeepers: Cody Cropper (Southampton), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton)
Many assume that the Chicago Fire's Sean Johnson and D.C. United's Bill Hamid are at the vanguard of the next generation of American goalies. Cody Cropper, a 20-year-old from Minnesota, is now part of the conversation as well. He probably won't play in Bosnia, but the invitation is a clear indication that his international career will progress following his appearance at this summer's FIFA Under-20 World Cup. Meanwhile, Brad Guzan won't have many more chances to make his case for the starting role.
Defenders: John Anthony Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Michael Parkhurst (Augsburg), Tim Ream (Bolton Wanderers)
Brooks is the big name here. The 6-foot-4 central defender, who scored in his Bundesliga debut with Hertha Berlin over the weekend, recently rejected a call-up by Germany's U-21 team (he's the Berlin-born son of an American serviceman) and has been pegged as a future star. It's tough to imagine Klinsmann throwing the 20-year-old in on his debut to face the likes of Džeko and Ibišević. So don't be surprised if it happens.
"John is a very special talent growing through the Bundesliga ranks," Klinsmann said. "He's a center back with wonderful vision of the game, very decisive in one-on-one situations and very mature for his age."
The excitement over Brooks is a sign of the unsettled nature of the U.S. back four. There are several quality players available. But all have their pros and cons, the number of potential permutations is numbing and no one is a shoo-in to start in Brazil.
Even Tim Ream, who hasn't played for the U.S. in nearly two years, is getting a look.
The two most intriguing omissions, considering the game's timing and location, are outside backs Timmy Chandler (FC Nürnberg) and Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest). Chandler's on-again, off-again relationship with the U.S. was the subject of some controversy until he was cap tied in February's World Cup qualifier in Honduras, where he performed poorly. This time it may be Klinsmann who's playing hard to get. Lichaj, who's healthy and starting in England's second tier, has never played for Klinsmann despite showing considerable promise under the previous regime. Puebla's Michael Orozco Fiscal was named to the roster Monday but was scratched hours later because of a hamstring injury.
Midfielders: Alejandro Bedoya (FC Nantes), Michael Bradley (AS Roma), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Fabian Johnson (TSG Hoffenheim), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Danny Williams (Reading)
The veteran pair of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones likely will anchor the U.S. midfield, giving Klinsmann a bit of leeway to experiment on the flanks. Corona and Alejandro Bedoya both showed well at the recent CONCACAF Gold Cup and will have something to prove if given the opportunity in Sarajevo. Playing time in those attacking areas will be scarce once Clint Dempsey, Graham Zusi and Gold Cup MVP Landon Donovan return to the fold. Eddie Johnson, listed as a forward for the Bosnia game, also could be a factor in a withdrawn role.
If Klinsmann chooses to break up the Jones/Bradley pairing he'll likely go with either Mix Diskerud or Sacha Kljestan, two-way midfielders who alter the tactics a bit but who have the talent to make an impact over the next 10 months. They're both on the cusp and will look to show well on Wednesday.
Fabian Johnson may find himself playing in back when World Cup qualifying resumes simply because the team's midfield depth is greater, but he's listed here for the Bosnia game.
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar), Bobby Wood (1860 Munich)
The paperwork finalizing Johannsson's switch from Iceland to the U.S. likely won't be finalized in time for him to take the field, but his presence confirms his intentions. The 22-year-old Alabama native scored regularly in the Danish league and now is off to a good start at AZ, Jozy Altidore's former club. His arrival complicates matters up top, but it's a good problem to have.
"Aron has made that big, big step which is huge for us because he's one of the up and coming promising strikers in Europe," Klinsmann said. "We just want to integrate Aron and make him feel comfortable, make him feel at home with us. Once he's comfortable and eligible and all the FIFA stuff is done, then we want to see him in real games and see if he can connect with something special to our game."
Altidore has scored in each of his past four games with the U.S. Terrence Boyd has played only 38 minutes for the national team this year but may force his way back into the qualifying picture thanks to an injury to Herculez Gomez and Chris Wondolowski's inconsistent run-in at the Gold Cup. The uncapped Bobby Wood, a 20-year-old Hawaiian who moved to Germany several years ago, rounds out the forward corps.