It may look as if Jurgen Klinsmann retreated toward the old guard with his 25-man United States roster for friendlies against Colombia and Ireland in the coming eight days. Actually, he wants the veterans there for one reason: to support the younger players on the squad who continue to receive opportunities.
“I think if you look at these veterans — Kyle Beckerman, DaMarcus Beasley, Nick Rimando, Jermaine Jones — I think those are all players that have to help get the younger players to another level,” Klinsmann told U.S. Soccer’s website after the roster release Monday. “It’s literally their jobs; it’s what we’re asking. I know everybody is busy with themselves and wants to play and show what they have, but in a transition phase after a World Cup … they have to show what it takes to become consistent and a real professional.”
So it’s a group mixed for mentorship and apprenticeship. Of course, Klinsmann didn’t state outright that those more experienced players would end up sitting on the bench — it would be surprising to see — but this would be another chance to give the new group minutes against good opposition.
Colombia, with World Cup sensation James Rodríguez in tow (but without Radamel Falcao), sits third in the most recent FIFA world ranking. Ireland is No. 61 and didn’t make it to Brazil, but it is second in its Euro 2016 qualifying group above Germany and boasts the active all-time leader in international goals in MLS MVP candidate Robbie Keane.
This will be the first opportunity for newcomers Jordan Morris, Rubio Rubin and Miguel Ibarra against European opposition since a 1-0 win over the Czech Republic on Sept. 3. And unlike a one-game, in-and-out trip to Prague, this group will be together for 10 days, save for some players involved with MLS' playoffs, who may return home following Friday's match at Craven Cottage.
Klinsmann won’t even necessarily be looking to his veteran players for their on-field prowess, such is his focus on developing the newer players in the group.
“This is what we coaches will watch very carefully — how the experienced players play that role and not their own role,” he said. “They’ve played enough caps, they know what to do.”
At this point in the cycle, it’s not about polishing a system of play, although laying the groundwork and finding a core group of players to fit a philosophy are always key concerns. With nearly four years until the World Cup and less than two until Copa América 2016, the final friendlies of 2014 will be used to weed out quality in a more general sense.
“For me, it’s really important to see how much [the veterans] pass on, and can these younger players become more alert, more urgent and understand that they have to break through and not miss the train?” Klinsmann said.
Here’s a positional breakdown of Klinsmann’s 25-man squad:
GOALKEEPERS: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Tim Howard’s international hiatus continues, so deputy Guzan will lead the U.S. goalkeeping corps. Rimando continues to be in favor under Klinsmann, and he finished the season with Real Salt Lake strongly.
Hamid and Johnson have long been expected to step up as the next generation of Americans between the sticks, challenged by recent breakout performances at the club level by Southampton’s Cody Cropper. Johnson just finished training with Hull City after the end of the Chicago Fire season.
With two matches and four halves to split, Klinsmann could play each for 45 minutes, or he could use game time as a reward for performance in training. A solid showing against Colombia would only raise Guzan’s stock more after another solid shutout performance for Aston Villa at West Ham on Saturday.
DEFENDERS: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Greg Garza (Club Tijuana), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Jermaine Jones (New England Revolution), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC)
Beasley is the highest cap-earner on this squad with 120, which is the sort of veteran presence Klinsmann said he wants in this camp. Others with experience at the international level include the versatile Cameron, Johnson, Chandler and 21-year-old Brooks.
Garza parlayed good showings for Club Tijuana in Liga MX into another senior team call-up. Left back was a problem spot for much of the last cycle, and while Beasley filled in admirably, Garza, 23, would be a better long-term solution as a player who has spent the majority of his career in the position.
A couple players’ positional listings are worth note: Usually a defensive midfielder, Jones is named as a defender after playing center back in the 1-1 draw against Honduras in October. Yedlin, who has also appeared on the wing under Klinsmann, is listed in his primary defensive position.
MIDFIELDERS: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Julian Green (Hamburg), Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution)
Nguyen’s reward for an MLS MVP-candidate season in New England is his first call-up since 2007. He and Jones could return to the Revolution after the first match, as they have to prepare for a playoff game on Nov. 23.
If Jones and Yedlin play in the back, this midfield is somewhat thin. Klinsmann singled out Beckerman as one of his veteran selections, but besides Nguyen, only Morales has played impressively in recent club matches.
A second playmaker type would have been welcome, but Corona is out with a broken metatarsal, and while Diskerud could fill that role, he played more withdrawn in the most recent matches. Clint Dempsey’s exclusion is curious, especially as club teammate Yedlin will make the trans-Atlantic trek. Perhaps it’s a function of Yedlin’s recent signing with Tottenham and Dempsey’s more advanced age that would make recovery more difficult after a playoff match Monday night in Seattle.
FORWARDS: Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Miguel Ibarra (Minnesota United FC), Jordan Morris (Stanford), Rubio Rubin (Utrecht), Bobby Wood (1860 Munich), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
Morris and Rubin join the senior team for the second time after the Czech Republic match in September. Morris scored the winning goal for the U.S. Under-23s in August against the Bahamas, and he’s still the leading point-getter (goals plus assists) at Stanford despite leaving for various U.S. events. NASL standout Ibarra returns after his landmark call-up last month, looking to build on his first international cap.
Wondolowski has been training at Fulham for the past week, so he doesn’t have to travel any extra distance for the camp. His unconventional path to the national team plus his consistent work ethic likely put him into the leadership category for the trip.
Altidore continues to struggle for Sunderland, but Klinsmann has been patient in waiting for the January transfer window to open and for him to move elsewhere. The U.S. matches are Altidore’s most consistent playing opportunities, and keeping him around the squad will ensure he stays enticing to potential suitors.