For the United States men’s national team’s biggest game of 2015 and perhaps the most significant of its coach’s four-year reign, Jurgen Klinsmann has opted to revert to his most tried and trusted players. The U.S. will take on its fiercest rivals Mexico in front of a sold-out 90,000 crowd at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, on Saturday evening with a place at the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia at stake.
Participation in what is an increasingly important and useful tournament a year ahead of the World Cup is prize enough, without factoring in the desire to get the better of their closest foes. But, perhaps most crucially of all, the match will act as a powerful assessment of just how the team is developing under Klinsmann’s charge.
The former Germany striker and coach has never been under so much scrutiny. The U.S. is only in the fixture against Mexico because of its failure to successfully defend its title at this summer’s Gold Cup. And it was not just that the team fell short, but the manner in which it did so.
Having failed to hit its stride throughout the Concacaf competition, with the exception of a drubbing handed out to a desperately understrength Cuba side, the USA suffered one of its worst results in recent history when being upset by Jamaica in the semifinals. Klinsmann continues to claim that his team was undone by questionable officiating. Yet the performances have brought much focus upon the question of whether Klinsmann has truly taken the team forward during his tenure.
A defeat to Mexico and those questions will become ever louder. It is understandable then that he has named a squad full of experienced and fully fit players.
“It’s a one-off, and a one-off always has its own dynamics and that’s why you need a roster of 23 guys where you really feel as a coach that in this one specific opportunity that they are the right ones to get the job done,” he said in an interview on the U.S. Soccer Federation’s website.
“That’s why this roster is obviously full of experience. There are a lot of players that experienced different challenges over their careers and managed them and bring now their experience into this one-off clash against Mexico.”
Ever since his team was sent packing from the 2014 World Cup at the Round of 16 stage, Klinsmann has firmly embraced experimentation. Already looking far ahead to the next chance for the U.S. to prove its progress on a global stage in Russia in 2018, players have been sought from far and wide who could potentially develop into figures to help Klinsmann fulfill his dream of proactive soccer.
Even when he said that plan was to be put on hold during the Gold Cup, he couldn’t resist casting an optimistic eye forward. And it arguably proved a hugely costly decision. The inexperienced and still far from convincing duo of Ventura Alvarado and John Brooks occupied the center-back positions and were shaky throughout.
Brooks is one of those who won’t be involved on Saturday, with Klinsmann stating that the German-born defender is short of 100 percent fitness. The same is true of forward Aron Johannsson and defender Greg Garza. Meanwhile, Klinsmann has decided that this is no time for emerging players such as Jordan Morris, Bobby Wood and Alfredo Morales.
There is, though, a place for the country’s fifth-most capped player in history, DaMarcus Beasley, as well as the likes of Jermaine Jones, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, Kyle Beckerman and Chris Wondolowski in a squad with an average age of over 29.The familiar spine of the team is likely to be in place, with Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore leading the line, Jones and Michael Bradley holding sway in midfield and potentially Besler and Cameron at the back. Tim Howard is back on the squad, too, although he will have to play second fiddle to Brad Guzan.
And Klinsmann is counting on his veterans to seize what may be a last chance to make a major impact on the international stage.
“All these guys in their 30s, they need to realize ‘you know what, I’m may not be getting these opportunities any more. This is it. We better take that trophy,’” he said. “However it looks like, we’ve got to go and get this thing. This is really about chemistry and getting the group together and making it a really special atmosphere the whole week leading into the Rose Bowl moment.”
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Defenders: Ventura Alvarado (Club América ), DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jonathan Spector (Birmingham City)
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (New England Revolution), Danny Williams (Reading), DeAndre Yedlin (Sunderland), Graham Zusi (Sporting KC)
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)