Jurgen Klinsmann has named a 22 man roster to face Mexico, in Glendale, Arizona on April 2 in a “friendly,” a misnomer if ever there was one. Players on both sides are fighting for World Cup places, so the encounter between these old enemies figures to be far from friendly.
On March 5 in Cyprus, it was the turn of the Americans Euro based contingent to make their World Cup case, and it did not go well, with the U.S. crashing to Ukraine 2-0.
Now, on this non- FIFA date, it will be the turn of the North American based players, with MLS and Liga MX (Mexico) players getting their chance. The home based group has been bolstered of late with Michael Bradley joining Clint Dempsey in returning to the Major League Soccer.
As many as eight potential World Cup starters could be on the field together next Wednesday evening, with solid national team contenders Michael Parkhurst, Clarence Goodson, and Maurice Edu, recent returnees who should also see the field against Mexico.
So, let’s take a look at who made the cut for U.S. MNT as they begin their crucial World Cup build up? With Tim Howard and Brad Guzan both being kept busy in the English Premier League, Nick Rimando leads the goalkeepers, and is expected to get a well deserved start.
Perennial goalkeepers of the future, Sean Johnson and Bill Hamid get the nod to back up Rimando, with Klinsmann electing to stay with blunder prone Johnson.
Particularly poor in Cyprus was the central defense pairing of veteran Oguchi Onyewu and youngster John Brooks. The one saving grace from that pairs flop was that the duo were thought to be competing for the fourth center back position.
Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez have long seemed primed to start as the central defenders in Brazil, with Clarence Goodson in place as the first sub. All three are on this roster, joined by Michael Orozco. Besler and Gonzalez should get plenty of time together versus Mexico and a cool, assured performance from the pair would calm a lot of nerves.
Nerves that were jangled somewhat by Gonzalez’ recent Concacaf Champions League performance, along with his unconvincing start to the MLS campaign. Goodson should also see time, and Orozco should get a run as well.
A bad night from the starters could open the door for one of the their supposed back ups. And any hope for a dramatic return from former captain Carlos Bocanegra, never likely, can be now be put to bed.
In fact, if Klinsmann is to believed, we will have a chance to see his entire back four in action against Mexico. Converted midfielders DaMarcus Beasley and Brad Evans have been constants in U.S. MNT lineouts, and Klinsmann has regularly labeled the pair as his first choice fullbacks.
Klinsmann has always seemed more comfortable with the duo than the rest of us are, but then, he is the man who picks the team.
Backing up the fullbacks on Wednesday should be Michael Parkhurst, a versatile backliner who has a real chance to make the trip to Brazil, and DeAndre Yedlin, Seattle’s rising star who remains a long, long, shot for Brazil.
Michael Bradley will lead the midfield and alongside him look for Kyle Beckerman. An MLS lifer, the Real Salt Lake star has thrived under Klinsmann, but 2010 World Cup veteran Maurice Edu is back from several years in Europe and is eager to press his claim.
Klinsmann passed over another 2010 vet Benny Feilhaber, who had been making a strong late World Cup push with his play for Sporting Kansas City. A key sub in South Africa in 2010, Feilhaber revived his slumping career at Sporting Kansas City, but this snub all but kills Feilhaber’s hopes to play in a World Cup in his native Brazil. Young RSL veteran Luis Gil obviously caught Klinsmann’s eye during the January camp, as well as with his good start to 2014 at RSL, earning an invite.
Graham Zusi and Landon Donovan are the likely starters on the wing against Mexico, and either or both could start in Brazil. Brad Davis and his sweet left foot are still hoping to earn a spot in Brazil, and then there is winger/forward Julian Green. The paperwork for the 18 year Bayern Munich prospect’s FIFA switch has gone through, and the Florida born, German raised attacker is now officially a U.S. MNT player, and he is eligible for April 2.
Klinsmann is as anxious to see the youngster in action as the rest of us, so expect Green to see some playing time.
Clint Dempsey will lead the forward group against Mexico, and he is the only U.S. or Mexico based player in that position assured of a place on the roster for Brazil. Eddie Johnson has been an important national team player since Klinsmann rescued his international career, but there is little room for sentiment in international soccer.
Just look at Herculez Gomez. Not long ago the Tijuana striker was one Klinsmann’s key guys, with the coach gushing about his attitude and work rate, not to mention his goal scoring touch. Now Gomez is struggling for playing time in Liga MX, and he did not get called in to face Mexico. Like Feilhaber, his 2010 World Cup teammate, Gomez may have just run out of chances. 2013 MLS MVP Mike Magee was also passed over, with Chris Wondolowski completing the forward group.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (8): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes), Michael Orozco (Puebla), Michael Parkhurst (Columbus Crew), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders FC)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Maurice Edu (Philadelphia Union), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FORWARDS (4): Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Eddie Johnson (D.C. United), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)