USMNT Searches for an A-TeamThere are lingering doubts over Klinsmann’s call-ups for the Mexico friendly
by Abram Chamberlain | Monday, August 13, 2012
So this is it? This is the USMNT roster for the game against Mexico. To put it mildly this is not exactly the squad I saw going into Mexico against El Tri. Expectations must be lowered – drastically. Typically, I would be looking at who was snubbed and who wasn’t, but this is a roster of possibilities, not permanence, or at least I hope it is.
This match, in all honesty, is not lining up well for USMNT supporters. Mexico is having a hell of a few years. Their senior team won the last Gold Cup. Their U17s won the U17 World Cup. Their U20s finished third in the U20 World Cup. Their U23s just won the Olympic Gold Medal. They are beginning to be billed as a dark horse for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. So when they called in a very talented A-squad to play the US, we expected nothing less than the same.
But building an A-team takes time, just ask Hannibal.
So the US is playing a more cautious b or c-side. And make no mistakes, despite the inclusion of Tim Howard, a good portion of regular midfielders and Landon Donovan, this lineup is almost shocking in its international inexperience.
Yes, obviously we are not trying to get embarrassed. That’s why Tim Howard is there. Even Nick Rimando probably shouldn’t be too surprising as he has made the USMNT roster for a few camps under Klinsmann. But where we see the budding of a plan taking place for the future is in the selection of Sean Johnson.
For some time now, there we’ve seen an emerging potential Keller-Friedel argument for young American keepers Johnson and Bill Hamid. Still, when Hamid was the primary keeper for the U23s in Olympic Qualifying, and Johnson’s gaffe more likely than not cost the USMNT a spot in London, most thought that it had just become Hamid’s job. Now don’t get me wrong, Hamid and Johnson are nowhere near that Friedel or Keller level, but rivalry can push people higher. And while Johnson’s inclusion may say more about Klinsmann needing to see him than a loss of faith in Hamid, it could also be Klinsmann trying to keep the fire in Hamid by letting Johnson tag along to play ball-boy in training.
In front of Howard is an unexpectedly somewhat intriguing display of youth, inexperience and underachievement. Typical USMNT captain Carlos Bocanegra, whose contract situation is mighty confusing with the Newco Rangers, is missing. There is no Gooch. There is no Clarence Goodson. There isn’t even a Heath Pearce. Even in form Jay DeMerit, whose absence could be due to a head-knock he took this weekend against RSL, is missing.
Instead, the senior most player is Fabian Johnson. Oddly, Johnson really doesn’t have much more experience than either Edgar Castillo or Michael Orozco Fiscal, who have somehow been called back after past disappointments. Somewhere Chicharito and Aldo de Nigris are probably rubbing their eyes to make sure they aren’t in the middle of a dream. But if we don’t play these guys we never get to see if they are anything more than just an idea and potential.
Additionally along the backline, Klinsmann has decided that instead of Eric Lichaj, who’s fighting for a starting job at Aston Villa, or Josh Gatt, who is putting in work at Molde, Steven Beitashour is the logical call for a shot as a possible right back of the future for the USMNT. Beitashour will almost be guaranteed a starting spot against Mexico, so that should be a very interesting and rude awakening for him. Meanwhile, Matt Besler has never been capped by the national team at any level and is 25 years old. There is potential there and the US does need center back help and depth. Still, the most fascinating thing about Besler is that he may have now jumped George John and Omar Gonzalez – the latter due to injury – on the depth chart for USMNT center back options. In fact, outside of Johnson, Geoff Cameron is the only player along this backline that many could see as actually having a future for the team.
The midfield as well is more surprising as for who is not there. There is no Michael Bradley or Clint Dempsey, who have been the best two Americans overseas for the last few seasons. Bradley is still acclimating with his new club, AS Roma. Meanwhile, many are assuming that Dempsey’s absence is a sign that he may soon leave Fulham.
DaMarcus Beasley seems to be a pick of convenience as he plays in Liga Mx. Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman, Jose Torres and Danny Williams seem to be regulars in Klinsmann’s forming player pool. So Klinsmann isn’t just sending sheep to the slaughter. Meanwhile, Joe Corona is back with the national team. Corona is still waiting to be cap-tied, which can’t happen in this friendly. Graham Zusi is only a mild surprise, despite not yet featuring in a major game or friendly for the US, he does appear to be in the master plan. Brek Shea, another puzzle piece in Klinsmann’s ever evolving plan, has had his lackluster club play in MLS shrugged off and he is being called back to the squad as well.
Up top Landon Donovan leads the way. Donovan typically plays in the midfield for the USMNT, but has been spending a lot of his club minutes up top. It will be interesting to see where he is used in this match. Terrence Boyd, off a blistering start for Rapid Vienna, receives a call up. As does Herculez Gomez and Chris Wondolowski who are both in great form. Perhaps the biggest shock is that Jozy Altidore is not there. The US has had trouble getting Jozy from AZ, and when he has been with the Nats, he has been fairly unimpressive. This could be a message being sent to Jozy or it could be Klinsmann respecting that his club season is just getting underway.
Yet supporters are prepared for a drubbing. This must be it. This must be a time for panic. This must be a time to start calling for Klinsmann’s head. The end must be ne’er. After all, the last time a young squad took on Mexico was in the 2009 Gold Cup. That team, which lost 5-0, did not provide a lot of permanent USMNT players. And we haven’t beaten Mexico since. Right?
In actuality, it might be time to calm down a bit. This is, at the end of the day, just a friendly. The more important games come in September against Jamaica. By throwing this relatively young crew into the shark tank of Azteca, we could possibly see who is fit for more time in qualifiers. This is an interesting squad, it has that dreaded word: potential.
Should we expect the USA to pull a Bad News Bear style upset? Probably not. But maybe we can find a player or two who will be involved when the US can once again go toe-to-toe with Mexico when it really counts. This is, I hope, all part of a much bigger plan.
And I love it when a plan comes together!