U.S. Men's National Team
Klinsmann Names 26 for Pair of World Cup Qualifiers
March 20, 2016
JURGEN KLINSMANN on Sunday unveiled his 26-player roster for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Guatemala, and while there weren’t many surprises (there rarely are under Klinsmann), there were still a few (Welcome back, Edgar Castillo!).
Here’s the full roster with my thoughts immediately following.
David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton FC), William Yarbrough (Club Leon)
Ventura Alvarado (Club America), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Monterrey), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), DeAndre Yedlin (Sunderland)
Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes FC), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution)
Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Union Berlin).
Four January camp winners
The U.S. national team's January camp has served as a launching pad for many American players. Those who perform well in these camps usually begin an integration process into the first team.
In 2015 Gyasi Zardes made a strong January impression and worked his way into Klinsmann’s plans. The early returns on the 2016 January camp are now in and there are four players who appear to have the inside track with the senior side.
Ethan Finlay in particular left camp on a high note when he set up Jozy Altidore for his stoppage-time, game-winning goal against Canada. Steve Birnbaum was a constant threat on set pieces and displayed the ability to play both right and central defense. David Bingham also emerged as a potential candidate to be the third keeper on the depth chart.
Lee Nguyen, however, is interesting as he has always been on the verge of breaking into Klinsmann’s team the past few years but has never been able to stick around. The team needs a playmaker and Nguyen could fit the bill.
Expectations are high for Wood
American fans who follow the progress of national team players are well aware of Bobby Wood who has scored in six straight games for Union Berlin and now has nine goals in his last eight games. With Altidore still recuperating from injury, now is time for Wood to show that he can make an impact on the international stage.
Wood, 23, has generally done well for the national team but now is a golden opportunity for him to establish himself as a starter. Altidore has been hot and cold; Clint Dempsey is solid but aging; Chris Wondolowski is also getting on in years and hasn’t thrived in the big spotlight; Zardes is often positioned on the left wing; Aron Johannsson is still injured; and Jordan Morris still hasn’t scored a professional goal.
Will Wood get his chance? Will he take it?
Curious Call-Ups: Orozco and Alvarado
Klinsmann’s World Cup qualifying rosters are generally anti-climactic as he often prefers to go with familiar players in important games instead of trying out newcomers. (The November qualifiers were exceptions as Darlington Nagbe and Matt Miazga made their debuts.)
That being said, even with Miazga with the U-23 team, the inclusions of Michael Orozco and Ventura Alvarado are stretches. On Saturday, Alvarado played the final five minutes for Club America in a 2-1 win over Leon. Those brief moments on the field were his first in Liga MX since a brutal outing on January 23 where America lost 4-1 to Pachuca at home. Since then he has predominantly been playing as an overage player for Club America’s U-20 team.
Orozco's club situation is even worse as he has not even played a minute in Liga MX in 2016 and has been seeing time for Tijuana's U-20 team—as a 30-year-old.
The fact that both defenders made this roster is a clear indication that Klinsmann lacks confidence in his other defensive options. (Want to see some of the names the coach passed over? Click here, select the "Position" filter, and then choose "Defenders.")
Lots of in-form players
The good news for American fans is that the current roster boasts more players playing at the top of their game than at any other time since the 2014 World Cup. At many positions, there are players who will arrive in camp with some serious wind at their backs.
Wood is scoring goals. Wondolowski—hardly a fan favorite—has started the MLS season in fine form and has a strong history against Guatemala.
In the midfield, Alejandro Bedoya is playing the best soccer of his career. Fabian Johnson is still red-hot although he was removed from Monchengladbach's game over the weekend with a groin strain. For now Johnson is on the roster but sometimes injured players are called-up only to be evaluated by U.S. Soccer's trainers. At the moment, Johnson's status is unknown.
In defense, John Brooks is in the middle of a breakout season in the Bundesliga with Hertha Berlin. Geoff Cameron is healthy and playing very well for Stoke City. DeAndre Yedlin is finally getting regular Premier League minutes in the midst of a relegation fight. And Edgar Castillo was finally welcomed back into the team after being an integral part of a Monterrey team that is atop the Liga MX table.
Jones’ absence opens doors
Jermaine Jones is a Klinsmann favorite, and the German coach has often tried to think outside the box in terms of finding ways to get Jones on the field (including a bizarre experiment in which the midfielder shifted to central defense). With Jones suspended, however, it will be really interesting to see how things unfold.
Michael Bradley has a lot to gain. The captain has often had his best games for the national team when Jones was unavailable. Jones and Bradley both prefer to play a free-ranging role and the two often seem out of sync. Now Bradley will be more open to play his game without worrying about Jones possibly getting in the way.
It also opens the door for another central midfield pairing. Will it be the old-but-steady Beckerman or will another player enter into the equation? Cameron has been playing the defensive midfield positon recently at Stoke and he could give Klinsmann an option there. Could Darlington Nagbe finally take the next step after only seeing minutes off the bench since his debut in November?
Jones, 34, has been a stalwart for the U.S. national team, but his international career is winding down and it will be fascinating to see if somebody makes a legitimate claim for his spot in the Starting XI.
Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.