John Brooks, Julian Green, and DeAndre Yedlin average just over 20 years of age. They not only have a combined 0 appearances in World Cup qualifiers, they haven’t even been to a Gold Cup. As of this afternoon, however, each U.S. prospect has their ticket punched for Brazil, set to take up three spots on Jurgen Klinsmann’s U.S. Men’s National Team roster.
Go ahead and argue those three among the best the U.S. has to offer, but that’s an impossible case to make. There’s a far more likely story, here. In the face of a tough World Cup group and having inherited a long-term project with the U.S., Klinsmann had one eye on Russia 2018 when he named today’s squad. He’s clearly willing to sacrifice the limited benefit of taking a better, likely little-used, player for the experience his young trio will get through this summer’s tournament.
The strategy’s not new, but it’s certainly profound, considering it involves explaining to three worthy players why, despite having claims to being better at this point in their careers, they won’t be going to Brazil. Those players were likely Clarence Goodson, Brad Evans, and, most controversially, Landon Donovan – players who many have long seen as locks for this summer’s squad.
How do you sit Clarence Goodson down and explain this kid from Hertha Berlin, one who looked so poor against Ukraine in March, was going in his place? How do you tell Brad Evans ‘thanks for all your time, but Timmy Chandler and DeAndre have this’?
How do you explain to Landon Donovan that a 19-year-old somebody who looked physically suspect against Mexico has ended his hopes of a fourth World Cup?
What many didn’t anticipate was Klinsmann’s change of course. In leaving off players like Evans and Eddie Johnson, the U.S. boss has shown a willingness to put qualifying performance in an almost irrelevant context. At least, if you didn’t prove yourself indispensable by the time The Hex closed, you weren’t guaranteed a spot.
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We also didn’t foresee his focus on 2018 being to great. Luiz Felipe Scolari famously took a 20-year-old Kaka to Japan/South Korea in 2002, but in attack, that Brazil squad was set to rely on Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, and Rivaldo. With those certainties, the back of Brazil’s roster didn’t matter.
For a U.S. team that looked set to leverage its flexibility, those final spots looked precious, particularly when the choices could be Donovan or Brad Davis, Evans or Chandler, Goodson or relying on Geoff Cameron for depth. Instead of avoiding those hard decisions, Klinsmann embraced them in favor of another goal: 2018.
This is why Sunil Gulati chose the former Germany head coach, and given what he did for the Nationalmannscaft Klinsmann deference to youth shouldn’t be surprising. Germany’s current success owes a lot to Klinsmann’s willingness to embrace its new talent. The U.S. can only hope that the same plan will produce success during a 2018 tournament, because today’s choices have already brought Russia into focus.