The United States men’s national team will have its first chance to bounce back from Gold Cup disappointment when taking on Peru and Brazil in two friendlies over the next week. For Jurgen Klinsmann, the matches also carry the extra importance of acting as preparation for next month’s key Confederations Cup playoff against fierce foes Mexico.
Looking to retain the Gold Cup and avoid the need for a playoff to go to Russia in 2017 a year ahead of the World Cup, the U.S. suffered a shock loss to Jamaica in the semifinals. The defeat, quite possibly the worst in Klinsmann’s four-year reign, was then compounded by a penalty shootout defeat to Panama in the playoff for third place. With Mexico going on to lift the trophy, the U.S. must now prepare for the Confederations Cup playoff at the Rose Bowl on Oct. 10, as well as the start of World Cup qualifying in November.
“Initially with the games -- and also going back to the games against Holland and Germany -- our goal was to get these experiences for World Cup qualifying and Copa America next summer,” Klinsmann told the U.S. Soccer Federation’s website. “Now obviously the focus has shifted and we are zoomed in on the Concacaf Cup and qualifying for the Confederations Cup 2017 in Russia.”
Klinsmann has already named his squad for the two friendly fixtures, which is missing Gold Cup captain Michael Bradley and the man he succeeded in the role, Clint Dempsey, due to their club commitments in Major League Soccer. Of those included, one name sticks out. After taking a year’s sabbatical following the 2014 World Cup, goalkeeper Tim Howard returns to the fold to compete with the man who stepped into the No. 1 role in his absence, Brad Guzan.
There are also places for experienced trio, Jermaine Jones, Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler. While Jones missed out on the Gold Cup through injury and Cameron was asked to miss out by his club Stoke City, Besler was a surprising omission, and one that became even more notable as the U.S. defense struggled. However, Klinsmann has also opted for continuity by giving the center-back duo in that tournament, John Brooks and Ventura Alvarado, another chance to prove themselves at international level.
“The bigger picture is to get some answers for how we put things together for Mexico game a month from now,” Klinsmann said on his squad selection. “Obviously we want to continue to have a good flow of guys from the Gold Cup, but also to bring back guys who are in position to compete for a spot on the roster for Oct. 10. Our message to these guys is simple: prove a point that you want to be at the Rose Bowl.”
Building on the theme of returning players, defender Jonathan Spector has become a late addition to the squad, linking up with the national team for the first time in 18 months. One of the players who will be keenest to impress, though, is Jozy Altidore. The striker was cut from the Gold Cup squad following the group stage, having struggled for form and fitness. But, with three goals in his last two appearances, the man with 27 goals for his country now appears now appears in better condition.
Altidore will be competing for a starting spot with Aron Johannsson, who scored his first goal for Werder Bremen on Sunday, as well as the player who hit winning goals against the Netherlands and Germany in June, Bobby Wood. Joining them in attack is the one uncapped player in the squad, Andrew Wooten. The 25-year-old plays for Sandhausen in the second tier of German soccer, where he has scored four goals in five games to start the season.
The U.S. first plays Peru at RFK stadium in Washington, D.C., on Friday, before taking on Brazil at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, next Tuesday.
USA squad for Peru, Brazil friendlies
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), William Yarbrough (Club León)
Defenders: Ventura Alvarado (Club América ), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Greg Garza (Atlas), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jonathan Spector (Birmingham City)
Midfielders: Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Joe Corona (Veracruz), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Jermaine Jones (New England Revolution), Alfredo Morales (FC Ingolstadt), Danny Williams (Reading), DeAndre Yedlin (Tottenham Hotspur)
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Aron Johannsson (Werder Bremen), Bobby Wood (Union Berlin), Andrew Wooten (SV Sandhausen), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)