Clint Dempsey’s hamstring will cost him the U.S.’s final two World Cup qualifiers. And ankle injuries will keep Michael Bradley and Fabian Johnson in Europe. Yet despite the U.S. having already qualified for Brazil 2014, those are the only major omissions from the squad Jurgen Klinsmann named on Sunday, the United States national team boss set to use his team’s final two CONCACAF qualifiers as their first preparation for Brazil 2014.
“We want to win these games. We want to finish off the year on a high note, but we also want to make the game against Jamaica a special one,” Klinsmann said, his Q&A at USSoccer.com explaining his thinking going into the international break.
That break sees the U.S. host Jamaica Friday at Sporting Park in Kansas City, the place where the team clinched their spot in qualifying’s final round. Four days later, the team will play their final competitive game before next year’s World Cup, venturing south to face Panama.
“Everything we do now sets the tone for summer of 2014,” Klinsmann explained, “and therefore it’s important the players understand this is serious business. We want to see an improvement of the entire squad, and we want to see competition in every spot.”
After Panama, there are only two international breaks before the end of the European season (November, March), giving teams few opportunities to assemble full squads before pre-World Cup preparation ramps up in May. The United States traditionally has a training camp in January for its Major League Soccer-based players, but with so few opportunities to train together before May, Klinsmann has elected to call in a strong team for two otherwise meaningless games.
That means the three goalies who have solidified their spots — start Tim Howard (Everton), backup Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), and third-choice Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake) — are all in the team. None of their club have games scheduled for the international break. (The Premier League will be on break. Real Salt Lake’s next game is Oct. 19).
With Guzan’s performances at Aston Villa, there’s been increased talk of competition for the U.S.’s number one spot – a rarity for Howard, who is closing in on team records for shutouts and appearances. Not surprisingly, Klinsmann sees that type of competition as ideal:
“This is exactly what we have been talking about for the last two years. You want to have your established player that is No. 1 in his position being challenged. You want to have him on his toes and know that the next guy is waiting … This is what we are working on. It keeps you hungry and motivated and focused. With the goalkeepers, we have one of the best situations in the world.”
Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), one of two players to start every final round qualifier (Dempsey), was called in, as was his partner in central defense, Sporting Kansas City’s Matt Besler. Each player should miss one MLS game: Besler on Wednesday during Sporting’s trip to Houston; Gonzalez next Wednesday when Los Angeles hosts Montréal.
Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Edgar Castillo (Tijuana) and Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders) were also called in. Evans will miss Seattle’s games against Vancouver (Oct. 9) and Portland (Oct. 13).
Sounders teammate Eddie Johnson will also miss those matches. He is one of five forward Klinsmann has called in, along with Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Aron Johansson (AZ Alkmaar), and Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy). For an Galaxy team in an unexpected fight for a Western Conference playoff spot, the losses of Donovan and Gonzalez could prove particularly harmful.
In the middle, Anderlecht’s Sacha Kljestan returns to a corps that includes Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), and Jermaine Jones (Schalke). For the former Chivas USA star, it’s a deserved return, with his coach understanding the frustration at not having won a regular spot with the team.
“From [Kljestan’s] perspective, [the lack of call-ups] is disappointing and a little bit bitter to swallow,” Klinsmann said, “but he also understands the competition there. When you look at the consistency he has built over the last few years, that speaks highly about him. He deserves to be back in this group. I wish I could give him more playing time, and I know he hasn’t played as much as he wanted to.”
Among the other notable players missing from the squad are San Jose Earthquakes defender Clarence Goodson (still recovering from a knee injury), Hertha Berlin’s John Brooks (arm), Augsburg’s Michael Parkhurst, Puebla’s Michael Orozco Fiscal, Tijuana’s Joe Corona, and Tigres’ Jose Torres.
The U.S. will go into Friday’s match ranked 13th in the world by FIFA. They’re also one point ahead of Costa Rica at the top of the Hex, with the team looking to finish first in CONCACAF final round qualifying for the third cycle in a row.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (6): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City) Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Jermaine Jones (Schalke), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FORWARDS (5): Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC)