Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
For many U.S. Men’s National Team players, next Wednesday’s friendly match represents their final opportunity to make the USA’s World Cup squad.
Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann included not only a mixture of youth and experience in his 24-man squad for the match against Ukraine, but also players such as Oguchi Onyweu, Tim Ream, Danny Williams, and Juan Agudelo, who have not been consistent players in the National Team program in the past 12 months.
Agudelo, Williams, and Onyewu have all made moves in the past six months to help their chances of making the World Cup squad. The upcoming training camp and friendly now is they and their fellow European-based teammate’s final opportunity to prove to Klinsmann and his staff that they deserve a spot on the plane to Brazil.
“Having this Ukraine game is a huge opportunity, mainly for our European-based players,” Klinsmann told U.S. Soccer. “You want to give them a chance to show where they are at and what’s going on in their specific situation. It’s a huge opportunity for all those guys to prove to us that they are eager and hungry to jump on the train to the World Cup. We will get a good picture of them over those couple of days, and therefore, we left almost all the MLS players back in the United States.”
With the long traveling distance and this being the last opportunity for Klinsmann to see the European-based players all together, the U.S. coach chose to leave a majority of the North American-based players back home. Klinsmann made an exception though for midfielder Michael Bradley and forward Clint Dempsey.
Nearly 12 months ago, the pair were flourishing with European clubs and helped lead the USMNT to a famous 1-0 victory in Commerce City, Colorado against Costa Rica and then four days later, to a more impressive scoreless draw at Mexico in Estadio Azteca.
The two have been teammates with the USMNT since 2006 (though Bradley wasn’t on that World Cup squad) and have formed what Klinsmann believes is the core of the National Team, a justification for their call-ups.
“You want to have a very strong team against Ukraine, and as I often mention our team is defined in its spine,” Klinsmann explained. “The core group of the team is Tim Howard and then Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones in midfield, Clint Dempsey in front of them and then Jozy Altidore up front. These five players build our spine.
“Having Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey in for Ukraine is very important to us. Clint has played these two months at Fulham and Michael is coming off preseason camp with Toronto, so for us it’s very important to see both back in the team and putting their stamp on the game.”
While Bradley, Dempsey, and Tim Howard highlight the roster, maybe the most significant name on the sheet is 18-year-old attacking midfielder Julian Green.
The Bayern Munich project recently agreed to join the squad for their two-day training camp in Frankfurt before returning to Munich, and even though he won’t play, his including in the squad is seen as a win for Klinsmann.
Green made his professional debut in the final minutes of Bayern’s UEFA Champions League match at CSKA Moscow, and he’s been on fire for Bayern Munich II this season. He’s even been finding the back of the net for the Bayern first team in friendly matches last summer and during the winter break.
Though Green has yet to break into the Bayern first team or make a decision on his international future (he would have to file a one-time switch with FIFA if he wanted to play for the USMNT), Klinsmann believes that Green has the talent to become one of the world’s best players.
“We are thrilled Julian accepted our invitation and comes into these two days in Frankfurt,” Klinsmann said. “We want to show him how things work with the United States team and with our environment. We want him to meet the players, to meet the staff, obviously to meet us coaches, and we want him to feel comfortable in our environment. With a lot of players who come through the ranks with dual citizenship, it’s going to be very difficult for those kids to choose which country they want to play for if they have this enormous talent to play at the highest level possible.
“Julian has this talent. Julian is an exceptional talent not only because he’s playing for Bayern Munich, but he’s shown that already over the past two years in the senior team environment there against the “older guys.” We are happy to welcome him for those two days. It’s a big step for him as we try to emotionally connect him to our program, because it’s not only a World Cup coming up this summer.
“Next year there’s a Gold Cup, then you have an Olympics, then you have Confederations Cup hopefully and soon comes the next World Cup around the corner in Russia. At the same time we have our eyes on the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, we also have our eyes on developing the next generation of players, and Julian is a very important part of that.”
Even if this is the last chance for Klinsmann to evaluate certain players in person, Klinsmann’s message to them will be simple. He’s always watching.
The U.S. head coach wants to see players work harder, putting in even more hours to make sure that they are fully prepared for the challenges they’ll face in the World Cup. And with the depth of the USMNT player pool improving every year, a more talented player could lose their roster spot to a player that’s playing each and every week, which is how Klinsmann wants to motivate his team.
“We want to see them preform on the field, but also over four days, we have time to sit down with them for a cup of coffee and discuss their individual situations,” Klinsmann said. “We just want the players to understand that every week really counts, every week matters. We want them to pick it up with their club teams. Some players like John Brooks – he sits on the bench right now. Because of injuries he lost his starting spot, and has to fight his way back into the team.
“So, the message to all the players is get a starting spot with your club team, to play week-in, week-out. Add to your schedule, on top of your club’s training, maybe one or two sessions a week on your own in order to get yourself a jump start when we go into World Cup preparation camp because it’s going to be very demanding. The message also is that we are on top of them in terms of scouting them, watching them, knowing exactly what’s going on. We talk to their club coaches. It’s a lot of monitoring work that goes on now over the next two-and-a-half months until we start preparation camp for the World Cup.”
What do you think of these comments? Do you think that Agudelo, Onyewu, Williams, or even Tim Ream could break into the World Cup squad? What are John Brooks’ chances of making the squad? Do you expect to see Bradley and Dempsey start together against Ukraine?
Share your thoughts below.