Remember the World Cup? Remember all those “I believe that we will win” videos? July sure does feel like a long time ago, doesn’t it? Regardless, soccer nation presses on.
Next Wednesday the United States men’s national team plays the Czech Republic in Prague, its first match since its July 1st loss to Belgium in the World Cup Round of 16. With MLS in full swing, stalwarts such as Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley and up-and-comers like DeAndre Yedlin were omitted, leaving Jurgen Klinsmann to pick a very experimental roster filled with European-based prospects given their first chance to work their way into the 2018 cycle.
I explored the turnover in Klinsmann’s 2014 roster from the 2010 World Cup team under Bob Bradley before it played Ghana. Only six players were held over from the previous World Cup roster: Brad Guzan, Tim Howard, DaMarcus Beasley, Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey. Beasley has since retired and Howard, 35, announced a one-year hiatus from the National Team last week.
Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones and Dempsey — key players in Brazil — are each already north of 30. Landon Donovan — who’ll receive a deserved farewell game on Oct. 10 in East Hartford, Conn. vs. Ecuador — already announced his retirement, as the team begins its slow move away from the Donovan/Dempsey/Howard squads that have been the core of the team during last two World Cup cycles right up until Donovan’s snub.
Obviously this is only one game and the World Cup in Russia is barely a speck on the horizon. Klinsmann is still going to cast a wide net. All that you probably need to know is 15 of the 22 players are 24 or younger, as Klinsmann gives looks to newcomers like Rubio Rubin and Emerson Hyndman rather than veteran European-based players such as Sacha Klejstan.
The Roster vs. the Czech Republic:
GOALKEEPERS (3) : Cody Cropper (Southampton), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
- Brad Guzan is penciled in as the team’s goalie — at least until Howard returns from his sabbatical in 2015. Guzan is 29, not exactly old in goalie terms, but not a spry young prospect, either. Oddly enough, Cropper, 21, could make his USMNT debut before playing at the senior level for Southampton. Cropper, along with MLS-based Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson are the next wave of U.S. keepers to replace Howard, Guzan and the veteran Rimando.
DEFENDERS (7) : John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), Greg Garza (Club Tijuana), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Michael Orozco (Puebla), Tim Ream (Bolton)
- Brooks, Cameron and Johnson represent 3/4 of a nearly first-choice back four.
- We still don’t know if Cameron, 29, is a right back, center back or defensive midfielder. He also reportedly is on the verge of a move from Stoke City to (somewhere) that could hinder his participation in this match given the European transfer window closes on Monday.
- Ream, now 26, hasn’t been able to crack the U.S. lineup with regularity since moving to Bolton in 2012. Depth at center back isn’t a pressing issue with Brooks, Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez, but Klinsmann continues to show faith in him. Ream did get the call ahead of someone like Eric Lichaj, now starting at Nottingham Forest, which sits atop the English League Championship (Second Division) after four matches.
- Greg Garza is getting regular minutes with Tijuana in the Liga MX at left back — a position always seemingly in flux for the U.S. The uncapped Texan will have as good a shot as anyone to win the position over the next 3+ years.
MIDFIELDERS (7) : Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Emerson Hyndman (Fulham), Alfredo Morales (Ingolstadt), Brek Shea (Stoke City)
- Bedoya, Green and Diskerud are holdovers from the World Cup roster, although Diskerud didn’t play a minute in Brazil. The friendly vs. the Czechs is the perfect chance to see what the Norwegian-American can do running the show in the middle of the field. After all he did receive the No. 10 shirt from Klinsmann after the coach dropped Landon Donovan.
- This is as good a time as any for Green to receive his first start. For all the hype his inclusion in the World Cup 23-man roster generated, he’s still logged less than 90 minutes in a U.S. jersey. Granted, when he entered the game vs. Belgium he promptly scored a highlight-worthy goal.
- Emerson Hyndman, 18, is the grandson of former FC Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman. He’s young, but he’s receiving minutes for Fulham in the Championship. Klinsmann must see something in him, given he’s only represented the U.S. at the U-17 level so far.
- Klinsmann definitely sees something in Shea — for better or worse. Given that Stoke City is trying everything in its power to transfer him, his inclusion in the roster is a surprise given the timing. Although he’s played sporadically since moving to England in 2013, Klinsmann seems to rate Shea as a change-of-pace option off the bench and that’s probably why he keeps receiving call-ups.
- Corona looked on track to make the roster for Brazil, but an unsettled club situation helped take him out of the mix. Another guy Klinsmann has faith in moving forward, it would appear.
FORWARDS (5) : Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Joe Gyau (Borussia Dortmund II), Jordan Morris (Stanford), Rubio Rubin (Utrecht), Bobby Wood (1860 Munich)
- What if Altidore didn’t blow out his hamstring 20 minutes into the World Cup? Depth at striker remains an issue for the U.S. heading into teh 2018 cycle. The four other players on this roster were barely on the radar for the World Cup.
- Terrance Boyd (ACL injury), Aron Johannsson (ankle surgery) and Juan Agudelo (lacking a club at the moment) would have been in the mix for this game. Their absences is probably the part of the reason Klinsmann reached down to include Stanford sophomore Jordan Morris for the Czech game. (Admittedly, I almost did a double take when I saw an NCAA team listed for a USMNT player’s club in the year 2014.)
- Joe Gyau moved to Borussia Dortmund in the summer. Although he’s only playing for the club’s U-23 squad (which also includes American youngster Junior Flores), he does have two goals in five games. Figure on Gyau receiving ample call-ups over the next few seasons, especially if he cracks the Dortmund senior lineup.
- Rubio Rubin is only 18 and getting minutes in the Dutch Eredivisie, which is obviously encouraging.
The next tournament of any significance for the U.S. is the 2015 Gold Cup, since it will determine which CONCACAF team qualifies for the 2017 Confederations Cup. Klinsmann still has until next June to narrow down his squad for that tournament.