Monday, November 12, 2012
Youth up front, savvy at back for USMNT
By Jason Davis
Considering the constraints under which Jurgen Klinsmann was working for this week's friendly in Russia, the team he chose to call in was always likely to be young and experimental. With German-American defender Timmy Chandler on the squad, Klinsmann's team is now also a bridge between the indecisive Nuremberg player and the Hexagonal round of CONCACAF qualifying. Chandler says he's ready to commit. American fans just hope he knows what he wants. With Jozy Altidore back on the squad, Klinsmann's team also presents an opportunity for a former stalwart to regain his place.
Beyond those two significant storylines, names full of promise jump off the rest of the roster: Mikkel Diskerud, 22, called in after hinting he'd be open to representing Norway; Joe Gyau, 20, the speedy winger currently on loan to FC St. Pauli; Josh Gatt, 20, another player known for speed and wing play; Juan Agudelo, who played better near the end of a rough MLS season, and despite already having 15 caps with the senior team, is still a teenager for 10 more days.
More: Altidore back after two-game snub
Klinsmann's approach makes sense considering when on the calendar this game falls. With the Hex looming, it's worth one last look at several players who could play a role in qualifying in 2013. The defense is not experimental in any sense, and that includes the return of Chandler, but the team gets much younger and greener in the middle of the field. Klinsmann can afford to play around in the midfield with Landon Donovan indisposed, Graham Zusi in need of a break after a long season and Clint Dempsey struggling a bit to find his feet at Spurs. There are spots to fill, and rather than fill them with fringe or MLS players out of the playoffs, he's chosen to move in the direction of youth.
The mix of veterans such as Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones with the younger midfield and forward core shows something of a dual-approach for Klinsmann. Russia's attack presents a good challenge for a back line that might very well be his first choice group come Brazil 2014, adding collective experience to their resumes. There are no other chances to get the defense a run-out together before the games start to count again in February, hence the urgency in the back. After the team's struggles defending in the previous round of qualifying, there's a clear need to work on communication and organization.
Meanwhile, the moving parts of the midfield, including Donovan's chronic unavailability, make it nearly impossible to use this game in the same manner in that part of the field. What the U.S. lacks there is width and the final pass. Many of the young players on this roster could conceivably help in those areas.
In other words, Klinsmann seems to be using this friendly to good effect, at least from a roster sense. It's a friendly, so it's valuable as experience for players who have yet to see much time with the national team and could play a role in its fortunes in the very near future. But it's also a quality opponent in a foreign environment, so there's an opportunity to put the first-choice defense through its paces.
Jason Davis is an independent soccer writer and podcaster. He talks American soccer twice weekly on The Best Soccer Show and writes on the same around the Internet. He can be found on Twitter at @davisjsn and at email@example.com.