As Landon Donovan bids farewell, USA's future beckons vs. Ecuador
Jurgen Klinsmann promised to field the “strongest squad possible” for the upcoming games against Ecuador (Oct. 10) and Honduras (Oct. 14) and on Monday, he unveiled a roster that reveals just the sort of impossibilities the U.S. national team coach must negotiate.
The friendlies occur during an international window on FIFA’s official calendar. Klinsmann therefore has access to his entire player pool, at least according to the rules. But Major League Soccer’s unforgiving schedule and the increasing number of national teamers now playing in the U.S. (or Canada) leave Klinsmann with little choice but to be flexible.
Livelihoods are earned at the club level. Because so many MLS playoff places still are up for grabs and because key league games are scheduled Oct. 8-12 (including two on the same night as the Ecuador friendly in East Hartford, Connecticut), Klinsmann will platoon his team.
For now, the “strongest squad possible” doesn’t include Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Matt Besler, Kyle Beckerman or Graham Zusi. Some or all could join the U.S. ahead of the Oct. 14 match against Honduras in Boca Raton, Florida. Others named Monday, like D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid, will return to their MLS clubs following the Ecuador game.
As a result, the man of the hour – the retiring Landon Donovan – won’t take the field for his international swan song alongside too many familiar faces. He plays with defender Omar Gonzalez at the LA Galaxy and has partnered plenty of times with Jozy Altidore. Donovan was a 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup teammate of Alejandro Bedoya, Mix Diskerud and a couple others.
But for the most part, Donovan’s final appearance in a U.S. shirt will highlight Klinsmann’s effort to introduce new talent. The transition has begun, and while several other veterans remain in the picture, the manager already has signaled his intention to create additional competition and enlarge the player pool.
Julian Green, 19, and DeAndre Yedlin, 21, already are key components of Klinsmann’s plans. The number of new faces called in for last month’s win over the Czech Republic, some of whom are on the latest roster, as well as Monday’s inclusion of Minnesota United attacker Miguel Ibarra, are additional signs of just how committed Klinsmann is to increasing his options.
Donovan’s 57 international goals compare to the 35 scored by the rest of the squad.
“It’s about building a new hierarchy of the senior national team because after every World Cup, it’s time to start fresh again,” Klinsmann told U.S. Soccer’s website. “Our approach to putting together the roster is mainly to see younger players coming into the senior national team environment and proving their point … We left quite a few of the experienced players out because we want to give the younger players a chance to break in.”
Eventually, that approach should make international windows like this one, when a “strongest squad” is impossible to assemble, significantly easier to negotiate.
The U.S. will train at Harvard University before heading to Hartford (where Donovan will join the team) for Friday’s game. Donovan and several others then will return to their clubs before the re-assembled squad meets in South Florida to prepare for Honduras.
Here’s a closer look at the 21-man team named Monday:
GOALKEEPER: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Guzan and Rimando each played a half in September’s 1-0 victory in Prague. While it wouldn’t be a shock to see them split time again, Hamid likely deserves a look. The 23-year-old has been spectacular for resurgent D.C. United. He’s the favorite to pick up this year’s MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award and has emerged as the clear frontrunner among the next generation of American netminders.
DEFENDERS: John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Greg Garza (Club Tijuana), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Michael Orozco (Puebla), Tim Ream (Bolton Wanderers), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders)
Klinsmann’s defensive options are limited by injury as well as the MLS schedule. Fabian Johnson (Achilles) and Geoff Cameron (hernia) – likely starters – are unavailable.
Brooks, the World Cup hero of Natal, is included despite his recent demotion to Hertha Berlin’s reserves, while Chandler continues to get the benefit of the doubt. Ream, who made his first U.S. appearance in nearly three years against the Czechs, also has earned another look.
Regarding potential reinforcements, Besler (Sporting Kansas City) is a likely call-up for the Honduras match. DaMarcus Beasley may be tougher to secure. His Houston Dynamo are desperate for points and have MLS games scheduled Oct. 12 and 16.
Gonzalez almost surely will anchor the back four against Ecuador before potentially joining Donovan and returning to the Galaxy for an Oct. 12 match at FC Dallas.
MIDFIELDERS: Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Julian Green (Hamburger SV), Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt)
Bedoya, who scored the only goal against the Czechs, has cemented his place in Klinsmann’s rotation. He is hard-working, skillful and versatile and is the midfield veteran on this squad.
Last month, Klinsmann altered the look of the U.S. midfield. Absent the veteran defensive presence of Bradley, Jones and Beckerman, the manager asked Bedoya, Corona and Diskerud to keep the ball and pressure the Czechs while supported by the speedy Green and Gyau on the flanks. That option will be available once again in Hartford. Morales is the only traditional defensive midfielder on the roster.
Luis Gil returns to the senior team after making his debut in January with a 15-minute stint against South Korea.
FORWARDS: Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Joe Gyau (Borussia Dortmund), Miguel Ibarra (Minnesota United), Bobby Wood (1860 Munich)
All eyes will be on the forwards, whose ranks are thinned by injuries to Aron Jóhannsson (groin) and Terrence Boyd (knee).
How will Donovan handle the emotion of his final international, and how many minutes will he play? Klinsmann, who cut Donovan from the World Cup team, said he hoped the national team’s all-time leading scorer “has a chance to really enjoy the atmosphere and the support of the fans.” Whether the coach gives Donovan leeway or forces him to accept only a few token minutes might indicate how much he supports U.S. Soccer’s gesture.
Will Altidore, who has one goal in just six appearances for Sunderland and missed all but 20 minutes of the World Cup with an injury, get back on track?
And just who is Miguel Ibarra? The 24-year-old playmaker from north of L.A. is the first minor leaguer to earn a U.S. call-up since midfielder Clyde Simms earned an invite in 2005. The Richmond Kicker then went on to an outstanding MLS career with D.C. United and the New England Revolution. Ibarra, who’s helped Minnesota to the best record in the second-tier NASL, appears to be on a similar trajectory. Drafted by the Portland Timbers out of UC Irvine in 2012 but unsigned, Ibarra has eight goals and five assists this year.
“Miguel in his game is maybe a bit of a late bloomer … he’s a good example that there are different ways to get all the way to the top,” Klinsmann said. “He has tremendous skill. He has speed. He has an engine. He can take people on and he keeps everyone on their toes. Now the tempo and the pace in every league is different, and especially is different on the international level. This now gives him over the next couple days a really good feeling of what he has to work towards in the future.”
As Donovan says goodbye, the future beckons.