Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
For the next three months, U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is giving players outside the World Cup-squad picture a chance to work their way in.
While Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, and Tim Howard are perceived as locks to make the roster, the same can’t necessarily be said for the likes of Chris Wondolowski, Brek Shea, Maurice Edu, and even Oguchi Onyewu. Wondolowski likely helped his chances with his two-goal performance last Saturday for the USMNT against South Korea while Shea, Edu, and Onyweu have all made moves in January to keep their World Cup hopes alive.
But while time is short, Klinsmann is leaving the door open for players on the fringe to impress him and earn a place in the final 23-man squad for Brazil.
We just want them to be on the field and build their case,” Klinsmann told U.S. Soccer. “Being in February and a few months prior to the World Cup, you want to see them all play. You have to give them a clear message that only if you pick up a rhythm and play week-in, week-out, will you complete one of the big keys in order to make the World Cup roster. That’s why we are really happy some of them now are starting to get their rhythm. This all plays a vital role in evaluating them, and then we have to make the vital calls in May.”
After wrapping up a three-week training camp split between Southern California and 12 days in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Klinsmann has also extended a challenge to the MLS-based players (and Mix Diskerud) that attended the camp. Klinsmann wants them to embrace their role as national team players, to embrace the added responsibility they have to represent their countries, and to stand out from amongst their teammates with their clubs.
More importantly, Klinsmann wants them to continue to be or become leaders on their respective clubs.
“The players that were part of that January camp, when they go back to their club teams, need to be leaders,” Klinsmann said. “They have to be leaders on their club teams because that’s why they represent the National Team. So we expect from them that they are the first to training and the last to leave, that they have the best attitude, the best positive approach, that they always do extra work before and after training. We expect that they look after themselves and live a professional lifestyle, not only that they focus on the field but off it, that they have the right body language whenever they step on the field, that they say the right words to the media because they represent their country.
“Being a National Team player comes with a lot of responsibility, and we want them to stand out and be leaders. This is what we are going to watch for week-in, week-out no matter if they’re in MLS or Mexico or in Europe. This is a big part of our evaluation at the end of the day, and will determine who of all those guys will go to the World Cup.”
Two players who aren’t leaders but could play a big role this season are DeAndre Yedlin and Luis Gil. The two former U.S. Under-20 players made their senior international debut’s last Saturday and certainly made a big impression on Klinsmann during the camp.
Yedlin and Gil, along with a fellow member from the 2013 U-20 squad, Shane O’Neill, all head back to their clubs with the goal of growing on an excellent first season and putting themselves in a position to be a fixture in the USMNT in the future.
“The youngsters DeAndre Yedlin and Luis Gil did well in their first introduction to the senior National Team. That’s why we gave them their first cap, their first couple of minutes on the field with the so-called older guys. They have a lot of talent, there’s no doubt about it. That’s why they played in the Under-20 World Cup with Tab Ramos. I’ve spoken to both of them about keeping their feet on the ground, that they stay modest but be proud of that moment because it’s a special moment when you play your first cap.
“This is just the beginning of a very good career, and we need them to push the envelope with their MLS teams, we need them to understand there’s more responsibility on their shoulders as a senior National Team player,” Klinsmann said. “We need them to understand that they need to work far more than anybody else on their club teams because they are National Team players. We want to see that process now taking place and we will communicate with their club coaches. It’s up to them now how well and how fast they develop over the next couple of years.”
Looking ahead, the USMNT gears back into action in one month’s time with a friendly match at Ukraine. Klinsmann all but confirmed that the squad for the mid-week match will consist of European-based players, and considering the amount of players who returned to the U.S. this winter, there could be a chance or two for a player struggling for playing time to show Klinsmann that they’re still good enough for Brazil.
The Ukraine friendly, (in addition to the reported but unconfirmed April friendly match against Mexico) represents the last opportunity for Klinsmann to evaluate the USMNT player pool before he has to decide on his 23-man squad for the World Cup.
“We want to see a couple of guys who we don’t have a clear picture of right now, so we might see some people coming back into the roster,” Klinsmann said. “Obviously, it’s challenging bringing a lot of players over from the U.S. or from Mexico for a game that only has three days of preparation. It’s more an opportunity to call in more European-based players because they are already in Europe and they can quickly show us where they are at.”