A report circulated Tuesday at Crew Stadium suggesting that U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann would deploy a team comprised entirely of MLS players in October’s World Cup qualifiers if the U.S. was already through.
Shortly after his team defeated Mexico, 2-0, and confirmed its passage to Brazil, Klinsmann buried that rumor.
“This is serious stuff, World Cup qualifying. You need to use those games the right way,” the manager said. “It’s not that we have many preparation games for the World Cup, so we take very seriously the last two games. We want to beat Jamaica and we want to go into Panama and beat Panama. It doesn’t change anything in terms of compromising players whatsoever. This is business.”
Klinsmann will have full access to players on both sides of the Atlantic for the qualifiers scheduled on Oct. 11 in Kansas City and Oct. 15 in Panama City. And he has every reason to bring in his best even though his primary goal has been achieved. The calendar tells us that the World Cup doesn’t kick off for another nine months, but in international soccer terms that’s right around the corner.
After October’s games, Klinsmann will likely be able to field something resembling a first-choice team only six more times before the World Cup kicks off. There’s a two-match FIFA window in mid-November, a single game on March 5 and then a period of build-up (May 26-June 11) toward the tournament in Brazil during which the U.S. could play up to three more friendlies. Provisional World Cup rosters will be due before that last run of games.
Klinsmann will probably run the national team's traditional January camp, but that’s typically restricted to MLS players. His roster for the November games, which almost surely will take place in Europe (Scotland is rumored to be one opponent), could be impacted by the MLS Cup playoffs. Although the international window (Nov. 15-19) will fall over an idle MLS weekend, the clubs still involved in the two conference final series won’t want to send their players back and forth across an ocean. Klinsmann has played ball with those teams in the past, but this time he may lose out if favorites featuring multiple U.S. players like L.A., Seattle, Salt Lake and Kansas City are still chasing a championship.
“I don’t know what the situation is, but I know that we’ve qualified. For me personally, I want to be [in Seattle] as much as possible and try to help this team,” Clint Dempsey said Thursday when asked about his October plans, according to The Seattle Times.
That leaves the games in early March and late May/early June as the only opportunities for Klinsmann to assess his players’ form in the six months leading up to the World Cup.
As well as the U.S. has been playing lately (13 wins in its past 14 games), there’s still a great deal to figure out before Brazil. The back four is unsettled, Fabian Johnson’s role is undefined, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley still have work to do establishing their midfield partnership and the team’s key attacking trio -- Landon Donovan, Dempsey and Jozy Altidore -- has played together for all of 18 minutes this entire year.
For those reasons, among others, Klinsmann will want to squeeze every last drop of preparation out of those few remaining matches. He’s got to identify his team of 23 for the World Cup and his starting 11 for the first game. Juggling those needs with his players’ club commitments will be part of the challenge. He's in no position to make it harder on himself by artificially restricting his player pool. Klinsmann and the U.S. accomplished their first mission with two games to spare. The second one, which is almost as important, begins next month.