By AVI CREDITOR
The U.S. national team has not played a match in almost three months, but that stretch will end with Saturday night's friendly against Scotland at Jacksonville's EverBank Field, where more than 36,000 seats have been sold ahead of the match.
Among those who won't be participating in the match include Jozy Altidore, who will officially be released by AZ Alkmaar on May 28, and Clint Dempsey, who is coming off a groin injury and is being handled carefully ahead of next month's World Cup qualifiers.
"Clint is unavailable for this week. We have a big hope he can make it for the Brazil game," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said on a conference call with reporters Friday. "Other than that, all the other guys should be available."
Most of them, anyway. Despite their season being over, AZ stuck to FIFA's regulations and did not release Altidore until they were obligated to, much to Klinsmann's chagrin.
"After a long back and forth, they were not open to change their opinion," Klinsmann said.
As a result, Altidore won't join the club until Monday, and his involvement against Brazil is likely to be limited. In addition to Altidore and Dempsey missing out on the Scotland match, Klinsmann said that with the late arrivals of Denmark-based Michael Parkhurst and Clarence Goodson that "more than likely they're not part of the 18 tomorrow night."
That leaves 19 players who are likely to be available for selection against Scotland after Klinsmann trimmed his roster down from 27 to 23 after a 10-day training camp in Orlando. Juan Agudelo, Alfredo Morales, Danny Williams and Graham Zusi were the four that did not make the cut. Out of the four, Klinsmann addressed Agudelo's situation the most in depth, saying that the 19-year-old forward just needs to prove himself more with his newfound playing time.
"We always had the discussion that he didn't have enough playing time (in New York)," Klinsmann said. "It's also the fact that he hasn't played many games this year. He got injured in our January camp. He got injured in Olympic qualifiers. You could see that he's slightly behind the other strikers. That's why we told him it's better to fly back to Chivas now and get sharp and get fitter every day. It's up to him. He's got to prove it. He's got to score goals and play every game."
Among the youngsters who did make the cut are Joe Corona and Terrence Boyd. For Corona, it is his first time with the senior national team. He led the U.S. Under-23 national team in scoring during Olympic qualifying with four goals, including a hat trick against Cuba.
"Obviously we followed him throughout the whole year," said Klinsmann, who added that Corona left a favorable impression after Olympic qualifying despite the team's overall failure. "He's a very skillful and creative player, he's good in one-on-ones and has a lot of upside on his game. We see in him a lot of potential. These 10 days in Orlando prove that we were right to call him in.
"He can play right (midfield), left, in the middle maybe as a 10 in a diamond midfield. He's one that wants to go forward. He has a really good vision on the field. He reads the game very well, he reads spaces, and his final touch to play the ball through is quite something."
For Boyd, who has yet to make a first-team appearance on the club level, he already has one cap to his name after appearing late in the United States' 1-0 victory over Italy on Feb. 29. With an imposing frame and a demonstrated finishing ability for Borussia Dortmund's reserve team and the U.S. Under-23 national team, the 21-year-old could certainly find himself on the field Saturday with Dempsey and Altidore out.
"He's ready for the next big step," Klinsmann said. "He's kind of adjusting to our way of doing things. He's a very curious kid, very energetic, and that's why he made the cut."
The upcoming World Cup qualifiers provide the chance to officially cap-tie Corona and Boyd, who are multi-national players and could still technically play for other countries. Klinsmann said that did not play into his decision making at all, as evidenced by his cutting Danny Williams and Alfredo Morales, who both are yet to officially be cap-tied to the United States as well.
"I don't have those elements in the back of my mind," Klinsmann said. "Terrence and Joe are committed clearly to the U.S. I'm not worried about that."
As for the perceived lack of depth at fullback, Klinsmann was confident in who he has available to him. Between Steve Cherundolo and Michael Parkhurst on the right and Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo on the left, the U.S. manager is content with his options.
"Fabian played the last couple of months mainly as a left back and became one of the best left backs in the Bundesliga throughout the last 6-to-8 weeks," Klinsmann said.
Klinsmann also addressed the comments made by Landon Donovan earlier this week, when he questioned his hunger for the game and wondered aloud about what his future holds after his contract with the Galaxy and this current World Cup cycle are over.
"Landon is a very intelligent player and very experienced," said Klinsmann, who added that he had to overcome the same hurdles as a player. "It's normal that your thoughts go all over the place when you think 'What's next? Where is my next challenge? How long will I play this game?'
"He has already played three World Cups. Those thoughts I think are normal. It's important that he's here, he focuses in and zooms in and gives everything he has for the national team. He's been tremendous in every training session. He's very professional, and when he has his open discussions with U.S. journalists, that's good to see. He's a thoughtful guy. Time will tell how much he wants to continue on the highest level. I had those moments too. They came when you were waiting for a next step."