Just two months after Tim Howard’s heroics, Julian Green’s instant impact but ultimately an agonizing extra-time exit to Belgium at the 2014 World Cup, the United States men’s national team begins what is very much a “new cycle.” With the fervor created by the team’s performances in Brazil now in the rearview mirror, the U.S. will take on the Czech Republic in Prague on Wednesday in what coach Jürgen Klinsmann has emphasized is very much the first step in building toward Russia in 2018. Included among Klinsmann’s 22-man squad are six players yet to make an appearance for their country, 11 with less than 10 caps and 15 under the age of 24.
“When you start a new cycle, you want to see as many new players and young players breaking in as possible,” Klinsmann said upon naming his squad, reports the USSoccer website. “Obviously you always respect your established players and you always want to give them the space to continue their good work, but you also want to use that opportunity going forward to introduce young blood into the program, give them time on the training field, and you also want to give them time in a real game and prove a point.”
Just 10 of the players who made it to the World Cup last-16 before a 2-1 loss to Belgium are named in the squad, with only one member of the party being drawn from Major League Soccer (Real Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando). There are four European-based youngsters in the squad -- Bobby Wood (1860 Munich) Emerson Hyndman (Southampton), Joe Gyau (Borussia Dortmund II) Rubio Rubin (FC Utrecht). And in a nod to the United States’ own Development Academy, Stanford’s Jordan Morris becomes the first active college player to be named in a squad under Klinsmann. “We have watched Jordan through our Youth National Teams and in the Development Academy for the last couple of years, and he is a very promising player,” Klinsmann explained.
The match in the Czech capital will also be the first following the decision of Howard to take a break from international duty. The man who captured the attention more than any other American in Brazil has said he wants to spend more time with his family and does not want to be considered for selection until fall 2015. Brad Guzan, who has impressed in recent seasons with English Premier League side Aston Villa, will now get a chance to stake his claim to be the No.1. The U.S. will not be in competitive action until the Concacaf Gold Cup on home soil next July and will then host a special centenary edition of South America’s flagship competition, the Copa America, in 2016, around the time qualification begins toward Russia.
The Czech Republic will be using Wednesday’s friendly for more pressing concerns. Just six days after meeting the Americans, they will host the Netherlands in the same Generali Arena in the first match of their campaign to qualify for Euro 2016. After failing to make it to the World Cup in Brazil, former Viktoria Plzeň coach Pavel Vrba has taken charge. While he may not have the same quality of players at his disposal as recent Czech generations, he will be expected to guide the team to the European Championships, given that the competition has been expanded to 24 teams. In a group with Turkey, Latvia, Iceland and Kazakhstan, as well as the Netherlands, the top two will qualify directly and the third will enter a playoff.
Prediction: With no competitive action for a while, it certainly makes sense for Klinsmann to hand opportunities to a number of untested players in a match that should provide a decent test. But, especially with Geoff Cameron pulling out through injury, it will be a very inexperienced lineup that takes the field against a Czech side that is likely to include wily veterans Petr Cech and Tomas Rosicky. And while they may not have the same quality of the teams that reached the final of Euro ’96 and Euro 2004, Vrba’s men still includes some savvy operators and they should also be sharper than their opponents.
Czech Republic 2-1 USA
Kickoff time: 2.15 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBCSN, UniMas
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra