Despite initial declaration, Klinsmann's World Cup team lacks Latin-American influence
STANFORD, Calif. -- Go back in time to Aug. 1, 2011, to Jurgen Klinsmann’s introductory press conference as U.S. men’s national team coach, when he said this: “There’s so much influence coming from the Latin environment over the last 15-20 years. It also has to be reflected in the U.S. national team.”
In his first 18 months on the job, Klinsmann worked to create the reflection. He introduced or re-introduced a number of Latino players, most of them Mexican-Americans, to the national team set-up. Jose Torres, Herculez Gomez, Edgar Castillo and Michael Orozco Fiscal began to feature for the team; later it was younger prospects Juan Agudelo, Joe Corona and Luis Gil. That Latino infusion made it seem likely that a good number of those players would feature for the U.S. at the World Cup in Brazil.
Fast-forward to the present, and of the 23 players chosen to represent the U.S. in Brazil, there is not a single Mexican-American playing professionally in Liga MX among them. Only winger Joe Corona, of Club Tijuana, was among the originally 30 that was trimmed down to a final 23. The U.S. is not devoid of Latino players. Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya is of Colombian descent; center back Omar Gonzalez is Mexican-American, but it is a far smaller contingent then what seemed likely when Klinsmann took over.
So why did more Mexican-Americans not make the team?
It goes way deeper than just Klinsmann's subjectivity. Age, injuries and a lack of production at Club Tijuana caught up to Gomez. Castillo and Orozco Fiscal failed to shine with the U.S. despite numerous chances, and the latter was hurt in the build-up to World Cup camp. Torres was unable to differentiate himself in a crowded central midfield and lacks the versatility that Klinsmann demanded of him, as he played him at left back and left midfield during World Cup qualifying. Injuries and an unsettled club situation derailed Agudelo’s chances, and he couldn't make up for lost time during a decent loan spell at Dutch side FC Utrecht. And Gil is only 20, a prospect to watch for the next cycle.
That left Corona, 23, who played well last summer in the Gold Cup then endured a rocky start to the season at Club Tijuana before turning it on just in time to catch Klinsmann’s eye. But he failed to crack a crowded midfield, and there is no shame in that given that neither could Landon Donovan.
When he was riding the bench for Club Tijuana early in the season, Corona said Martin Vasquez, the former U.S. assistant coach, called him with words of encouragement. Vasquez, a Mexican-American who played in Liga MX, was the assistant coach closest to Corona and other Mexican-Americans. He was reassigned in March, a surprise given how close that move came to the start of the World Cup and how close he had been to Klinsmann over the years.
A short time later, Klinsmann added German Berti Vogts -- who will coach Azerbaijan against the USA on Tuesday -- to his staff as a special advisor for the World Cup. There was much speculation as to why that switch was made, but perhaps it was just sheer pragmatism. In Brazil, the U.S. is going to feature five German-Americans: Timmy Chandler, Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, John Brooks and Julian Green.
As for the reflection of the Latino influence on the national team that Klinsmann spoke of in 2011, it will likely take a few years for that to emerge. The U-20 and U-17 U.S. teams are well stocked with Latin Americans. Rubio Rubin, the 18-year-old who recently signed with Utrecht, has been marked for stardom, as has fellow U-20 player Junior Flores, who is with Borussia Dortmund in Germany. Whether they ultimately feature for the senior team is a crapshoot, but it won’t be because the U.S. is not looking at them and other Latino prospects.
“Now that Jurgen is here and expressed his feelings toward Liga MX and he’s done a good job calling players up and giving them participation,” Corona says. “[The U.S.] just has to try and keep an eye on the younger players. . .. At [Club] Tijuana, there are players who are part of the U-20 and U-17 U.S. teams and they call them up and do a good job bringing them in. The U.S. is now learning to take advantage of that.”