COLUMBUS, Ohio – Qualifying for a World Cup with two games to spare provides players, coaches and the entire program with choices they would not otherwise have.
Only, U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann sounds not a bit inclined to exercise these added options. This is serious business and there will be no messing about, Klinsmann said late Tuesday, once official qualification for World Cup 2014 had been achieved.
The United States has a home match remaining with Jamaica (Oct. 11 in Kansas City) and at Panama (Oct. 15). Klinsmann makes the calls, of course, and he called this “serious business,” almost looking a bit surprised at the question of whether booking official passage changes things.
“No. This is serious stuff, World Cup qualifying,” he said. “You need to use those games in the right way. It’s not like we have that many preparation games before the World Cup. So we take this very seriously, the last two games. We want to beat Jamaica and then go into Panama and beat Panama. So we take this very seriously, so this doesn’t change anything in terms of compromising players. This is business.”
That aligns with Klinsmann’s overall message to the players, fed repeatedly over his two-plus years in charge: only through ultimate professionalism and the dogged pursuit of individual and team improvement will the United States push through the current sticking point in terms of World Cup success.
Klinsmann is right about the lack of matches. Now that they know for 100 percent certainty that they have dodged that November play-in series with New Zealand, U.S. Soccer officials can schedule friendlies for the month. (Scotland, perhaps, as reported last week?) There will be precious few FIFA dates between then and next May, when the World Cup training camp will open.
As for player selection, the problem is on the other end. Does a team like Stoke City want Geoff Cameron traveling halfway around the world for a pair of October qualifiers that could certainly impact the CONCACAF standings but are virtually meaningless to the United States?
Eleven players from Europe were called in for the two just-completed qualifiers; there are more still with a chance, at least, to make the 23-man World Cup roster.
U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard, whose 51st victory leaves him just two behind Kasey Keller’s all-time U.S. national team best of 53, also said he wouldn’t miss any opportunities to suit up for the national team, regardless of the travel involved from Europe.
“I have no idea what’s going to happen with selection,” he said late Tuesday. “But clearly, I’m available. The other guys will be available. Of course [the remaining games] are important.”
They are certainly critical as Klinsmann continues to fill holes in the roster. Fabian Johnson started at right back against Mexico, but that has the look of yet another stop-gap choice. Steve Cherundolo, 34, remains in the picture, but advancing age and his own choices regarding the national team cloud that picture significantly. In fact, he’s probably still in the conversation only because no player has grabbed hold of the position.
Left back remains a trouble spot as well.