BRIAN SCIARETTA - Tuesday, November 13, 2012
The USMNT roster for the friendly against Russia is full of surprises that offer a glimpse of Jurgen Klinsmann's vision for the team in 2013.
The bottom line is that there are several new players who now have the opportunity to prove themselves on the big stage. There are also a few veterans of the team who could be on thin ice and a strong performance against Russia is needed to be in the picture moving forward.
The game against Russia may simply be a friendly but this game is extremely important on an individual level for certain players. That is the dominant theme when looking at the roster.
But here are my main thoughts on the roster.
Timothy Chandler's return to the team is huge
After more than a year since his last international game, Timothy Chandler is back with the US team. His callup is likely to be viewed with skepticism from US fans because Chandler has been on record for not being committed to the team for most of the year. In fact he declined callups all through 2012.
Now the game against Russia is not a cap-tying occasion and it is still possible for him to waffle again. I don't think he will, however. If he refuses any future callups in the future, he is almost surely never coming back this cycle. It will cost him a chance at the 2014 World Cup. He also went on record with US Soccer's official site saying that he is "1000%" on board. I don't see him walking that back.
All that being said, international soccer is about heart. The intangibles win hard fought games. I don't think Chandler's conflicted emotions revolved around playing for US or Germany but rather being willing to play international soccer altogether. Chandler did not have that desire before but he says he has it now. Playing international soccer, especially for a European based player playing for a CONCACAF team, is rigorous. You have to really want to do it and you can't fake it. Will Chandler's strong words carry over into positive performances with the US team. We will see.
He remains a very gifted player with elite athleticism. It's the last straw for him but if he is able to play to his potential with the US team, he could be the right back for 2014 and beyond.
All eyes on Jozy Altidore
When Klinsmann omitted Jozy Alitdore from the October qualifiers, it was a warning sign to all players that no one player has an automatic roster spot.
It was an extremely risky decision for Klinsmann because those qualifiers were crucial and Altidore is having a terrific Eredivisie season with AZ Alkmaar. In the first third of the season, Altidore is one of the best goal scorers in the league. What's most impressive is not the number of goals he is scoring but rather it is the number of high-quality goals that is raising eyebrows.
The challenge for Klinsmann is to find a way to get Altidore to have his club success translate over into the international game. While the German coach has said he has not been happy with Altidore the past 14 months, Altidore is too important to leave off the team for an extended period of time. Finding a way to get Altidore to play to his ability for the US team could be the missing ingredient that makes the United States a quarterfinal threat at the World Cup.
If Altidore plays well against Russia, it will be a huge step forward for the team heading into the Hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying.
The dilemma of Maurice Edu and Clarence Goodson
When Klinsmann was hired as head coach in 2011, he stressed adamantly how important it was for his players to play and play well for their club teams.
On October 11, 2011 prior to the US-Ecuador game Jurgen Klinsmann made the following point in a press conference.
"I sent a message in my first get together for the Mexico game [in August 2011] and I said that for me the most important thing is that you guys play. If you're on the bench somewhere - it doesn't matter in Europe, the MLS, or in Mexico - you have a problem coming in here. That is very important for the players to know."
Maurice Edu has been a regular with the US national team under Klinsmann but now the midfielder is struggling just to make the matchday 18 for his new club Stoke City. In his most recent performances for the United States, he has not made a positive impact.
Edu is on the roster for the Russia game but if he does not perform well and his situation at Stoke does not improve, he may stop getting called up. His situation is grim and the game against Russia could be his final chance to secure his standing as regular national team player.
Similarly, the game is also crucial to central defender Clarence Goodson who is struggling mightily for Brondby who are likely to be in an uphill relegation battle in the Danish Superliga this year. Goodson's plight with Brondby was exacerbated with a poor performance for the US last month against Antigua.
So while the roster contains a number of newcomers, veterans like Goodson and Edu will also have much to prove against Russia.
The team has gotten faster and wider with newcomers Gatt and Gyau
The US national team under Klinsmann has not been particularly fast and has especially been lacking in players who naturally play wide positions.
This roster addresses those concerns. Chandler's strength as a player is that he is extremely athletic and can cover a lot of space on the right side. He is one of the fastest fullbacks in the Bundesliga.
The two newcomers on the team, Josh Gatt and Joe Gyau, are among the fastest players the United States has ever produced. Their speed and quickness is going to be a handful for any opponent. It is true that both are raw and lack experience but their presence on the team addresses a key weakness.
If Gatt and Gyau have strong showings against Russia, they will give Klinsmann more options in the attack next year in World Cup qualifying.
Welcome back to Juan Agudelo and Mix Diskerud
As 2012 is drawing to a close, one of the big disappointments of the year was the US U-23 team which failed to qualify for the Olympic Games.
Despite that failure, a few notable players impressed including Juan Agudelo and Mix Diskerud who both were with the national team in the past but have not been capped this year. It's been a rocky road for each player too this year.
Mix Diskerund struggled on loan to Gent in Belgium but revived his career in returning to Norway to play with Rosenborg. Juan Agudelo came up through the Red Bulls system but was traded this year to Chivas USA. Initially he struggled but he finished the year playing solid soccer.
Both players have always been viewed as promising young American players and now each will have an opportunity to prove that their struggles in 2012 are a thing of the past.