21014_isi_injury_bpi_rp_stoke_city_man_utd_82.2634251 Robin Parker/isiphotos.com
The U.S. National Team

Injury Nightmare Forces Klinsmann to Dig Deeper

Injuries to Timothy Chandler, Oguchi Onyewu, Eric Lichaj and several others have the left the U.S. national team in a bit of a bind ahead of its March 5 friendly against Ukraine. Josh Deaver explains.
BY Josh Deaver Posted
February 10, 2014
11:41 AM
I SHOULD HAVE seen it coming.

The certitude with which I ran down the United States men’s national team player pool in my last article all but guaranteed the kind of calamitous weekend we just witnessed. Just when Klinsmann’s depth chart was looking sorted for the final run toward Brazil, an all-time string of injuries has left the German, palms upward, asking "What’s next?"

In a recent interview, Klinsmann discussed the upcoming friendly match against Ukraine, scheduled for March 5th in Kharkiv. During the chat, he reiterated the need to take a good—potentially, final—look at some European-based fringe contenders for his ever-evolving World Cup roster puzzle. He mentioned Tim Ream, Brek Shea, and Danny Williams by name, giving a fairly clear indication of who the U.S. boss may be eyeing for the match. Other names passing Klinsmann’s lips were Oguchi Onyewu and Timothy Chandler, two players who struggled at the onset of their respective European campaigns but have since found the field and their form.

Now, however, it’s looking like Klinsmann may have to make do with other options.

Onyewu—whose exit in the final seconds of Sheffield Wednesday’s win over Barnsley last weekend went largely unnoticed—sat out this weekend after being officially diagnosed with a calf muscle tear. Slated to miss a "few weeks" of action, his chance to feature against Ukraine, and at making the World Cup roster, may have all but vanished with the news.

Riding an excellent run of form and no doubt in line for his national team return, Chandler also went down this weekend. Early in the match against Bayern Munch on Saturday, the Nurnberg defender fell to a heap. Untouched on the play, Chandler clutched his knee and sobbed as he was stretchered off the field. The post-match diagnosis confirmed a meniscus tear in his left knee and 8-10 weeks on the shelf.

The two loses add to the litany of Americans already seeing significant time on the training table. Steve Cherundolo remains out indefinitely for Hannover. John Brooks is yet to work himself back on the team sheet for Hertha Berlin. Jermaine Jones is out at Besiktas with a groin injury. Eric Lichaj will reportedly miss a "number of weeks," according to Nottingham Forrest manager Billy Davies. Sacha Kljestan and Fabian Johnson have yet to return fully from their respective knocks, while Aron Johannsson and Alejandro Bedoya missed time this weekend with minor issues..

Taken individually, the losses are not devastating. Collectively, however, and with an eye toward the upcoming friendly—one where the services of MLS and Mexican-based players will be difficult to procure—the situation has evolved into a bit of a nightmare.

If Klinsmann decides to stick exclusively with his European players for this match, he will be forced to dive headlong into the increasingly shallow player pool to simply fill out his team sheet. More concerning, his healthy options at the back now include only Geoff Cameron and Ream, with the latter still recovering from a recent broken nose. Brooks and Fabian Johnson, who Klinsmann’s claimed were ready to return this weekend, remained out of action but will presumably be fit in time to play.

The loss of Chandler, Onyewu, and Lichaj opens the door for new contenders on the American backline, but who will walk through it? Truthfully, there are few realistic options.

In a little more than 24 hours, former under-20 defender Will Packwood has gone from a fringe also-ran to a likely candidate for his first full international cap. The Birmingham City man has impressed recently, slotting in as an every match starter since making his return to the Blues last month. Packwood was one of the standout prospects during the last under-20 cycle before suffering a broken leg in early 2013. Pedigree alone may earn him an invite.

Packwood better watch his back, however. A potential spot on the national team, as well as with his with own club, may soon be challenged by the returning Jonathan Spector. Out since October with a thigh injury, the experienced 27-year-old is a "why not" selection for Klinsmann at this point. If chosen, Spector can act as Klinsmann’s Leatherman tool—a versatile option able to lineup anywhere on the backline.

In last week’s now confirmed-jinx of an article, I also discussed the possibility of Caleb Stanko, captain of the under-20 World Cup squad, benefiting from Klinsmann’s recent propensity for integrating former youth players into the senior team structure. I feel much better about that pick now. Stanko is a defensive midfielder by trade, but can fill out depth at center back if need be.

You can throw Ingolstadt’s Alfredo Morales in the mix as well. Like Stanko, Morales is a natural defensive midfielder, but has also featured as a right back at times, training there during the 2013 national team January camp. Don’t ask questions, it’s all hands on deck!

Besides that, the cupboard is astonishingly bare. With remaining options like Seb Hines, Zarek Valentin, Jide Ogunbiyi, and Conor O’Brien, it’s hard to imagine Klinsmann won’t push hard for the release of MLS-ers Michael Parkhurst, Clarence Goodson, and/or Brad Evans, whose ticket may already be stamped after this weekend’s misfortunes. Mexican-based defenders Michael Orozco and Edgar Castillo could use some extra minutes as well. Even Greg Garza, Castillo’s backup at Tijuana, is not out of the question.

It’s an age-old lesson; things happen in a World Cup year. You can’t stop them, you can only hope to contain their effects. Ultimately, how you react and endeavor to overcome adversity becomes a true test of one’s managerial acumen. Klinsmann has done an admirable job building depth for such a situation, but even he couldn’t have anticipated having to dig this deep.

It’s time for another test.

Who do you think will take advantage of these injuries and secure a World Cup roster spot? We want to hear your thoughts.

ASN Contributing Editor Josh Deaver is a former academic turned soccer obsessive. Follow him on Twitter already.

Post a comment