Jurgen Klinsmann introduces fresh faces with national team selections
There's no question that an injection of new U.S men's national team blood was needed heading into its Wednesday friendly against Mexico, and that's exactly what manager Jurgen Klinsmann provided.
A chance to play at the famed Azteca Stadium against a loaded Mexico side still celebrating its Olympic gold medal is a massive opportunity for players looking to make an impression. However, some of Klinsmann's selections have left people scratching their heads. Though many of the U.S.' top European-based players, such as Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, were excluded from the roster because of their preseason club schedules or individual circumstances, there were also several surprising omissions.
Leading that list is Sacha Kljestan. It's puzzling why he continues to be overlooked despite his club success with Anderlecht in Belgium, along with the fact that he plays an attacking midfield position in which the U.S. isn't particularly deep. On this friendly roster, only Jose Torres is comfortable playing as an attacking mid, as Klinsmann brought in a bevy of defensive midfielders (Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman and Graham Zusi).
It can be argued Kljestan failed to leave a lasting impression with his last few caps, but he certainly has put in more work to earn a call-up than, for example, Brek Shea. While Shea is extremely talented and could eventually become a national team mainstay, the timing may have been off to reward him with a roster selection.
In fact, what kind of message does Shea's call-up send, especially given the current drama surrounding his situation in MLS? Over the past two months, the FC Dallas midfielder has been benched, publicly criticized by his club's captain, suspended three games for firing a ball at an official and, most importantly, not played up to his standard. Though Shea has shown flashes of his former self after being reinserted into the starting lineup two weeks ago, I'd argue that his recent progress was a result of being forced to earn his stripes all over again. This gift-wrapped call-up is a risky one. For the long-term sake of Shea's career, I would rather have seen him rewarded with a call-up once he starts tearing it up again, which I believe he will.
The remaining midfielders who round out the roster are DaMarcus Beasley, Joe Corona and Danny Williams. Corona is particularly of interest, as Klinsmann will get a great look at an up-and-coming 22-year-old who put together a string of impressive performances with the U.S. Olympic team in qualifying.
On the other side of the spectrum, attack-minded players Chris Pontius and Michael Farfan will have to wait for their opportunity. Pontius, 25, is having another solid season with D.C. United, and he certainly will force himself into the mix if he continues his torrid scoring pace. Farfan, 24, is a throwback player who all soccer purists can appreciate. His vision, technique and passing are refined well beyond his years. He is a player in the Kljestan mold who has many good years of soccer ahead of him.
Up top, Landon Donovan and Herculez Gomez are the frontrunners for starting spots, while Chris Wondolowski hopes his MLS goal-scoring prowess translates to the national team. And as happy as I am on a personal level for San Jose's Alan Gordon, who was added to the roster late Sunday night, it's unlikely Klinsmann plans to keep him in the USMNT picture leading up to the 2014 World Cup.
If that's the case, why not use this great opportunity to target a forward who is more likely part of the bigger picture? Houston's Will Bruin, a similar player to Gordon except eight years younger, could have been a potential option. Resurgent Seattle Sounders forward Eddie Johnson, who is tied for fifth in MLS with 10 goals, was also unlucky not to receive a call-up.
Regardless, the striker I'm most excited about is Terrence Boyd. He has loads of potential and seems to realize just how good he can be. This experience will only help him in the long run.
As for defenders, Matt Besler and Steve Beitashour, both seeking their first caps, join Geoff Cameron, Edgar Castillo, Michael Orozco Fiscal and Fabian Johnson on the roster. Orozco Fiscal and Castillo have been given another lifeline by Klinsmann as they look to impress the manager in familiar territory -- both ply their trade in the Mexican league.
Jay Demerit warranted an invitation back into the national team picture with a string of good performances, but concussion symptoms ruled him out of consideration.
Finally, at goalkeeper, Klinsmann could do no wrong in selecting Tim Howard, Nick Rimando and Sean Johnson. Howard is the clear-cut No. 1 choice, while Rimando is an experienced MLS veteran and Johnson represents the future. The decision to include Johnson over Bill Hamid clearly sends a message that Hamid is no longer the No. 2 goalkeeper on the depth chart, a hierarchy Klinsmann favored less than a year ago. This should serve well for the future as competition for these backup goalkeeper positions heightens with many new names, such as Dan Kennedy, making a strong push to get in the mix.
As Klinsmann said, "When you have a case like this, with European players behind things right now ... this is a good moment. This gives [the newcomers] the chance to come in and prove their value."
Whether he chose the right mix of newcomers remains to be seen.