The United States men’s national team will begin its preparations in earnest for next month’s Gold Cup when facing the first of two friendlies against high-caliber European opposition on Friday. First up for Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad is a match with last year’s World Cup brine medalists, the Netherlands, in Amsterdam before heading to Cologne to take on the world champions Germany next Wednesday.
It has been a hard road for the U.S. since last summer in Brazil, with Klinsmann utilizing plenty of new faces as he builds toward the next World Cup in 2018. But after salvaging a 1-1 draw in Switzerland and then beating local rivals Mexico in April, the team should carry some belief with it into two challenging fixtures that Klinsmann believes are crucial to his players’ development.
“We want to play against those nations and show them that we not only came here to defend, but that we came here to attack and that we want to go forward and we want to score goals against them and we want to make life very miserable for them,” he told the U.S. Soccer website. “So the learning curve is big, and for us coaches too because we get a lot to see and afterwards we know a lot more.”
The Gold Cup is the focus of the U.S. team’s year, with the chance to maintain Concacaf superiority and secure a place at the 2017 Confederations Cup. With that in mind, Klinsmann has largely curtailed the experimentation that has characterized his selections since the World Cup. This time around there are no new inclusions, although there are some familiar faces missing with many of those given a chance by Klinsmann in recent months keeping their place. World Cup starting center-backs Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron are absent, although the latter is thought to have a minor fitness issue. Meanwhile, more inexperienced defenders like Ventura Alvaado, John Brooks and Jonathan Orozco will get further chances to stake their claim.
“Putting together the pieces now for these two very, very prestigious friendlies, obviously in the back of your mind there’s the Gold Cup,” Klinsmann said. “It’s a huge opportunity to play nations like these two in order to see a lot of things that you want to see from your players. In a certain way, we want to see a couple of guys get thrown in the freezing cold water and see how they can swim and where they stand right now in the ranking of the men’s national team. That’s why I want to see Ventura Alvarado or John Brooks play in games like this.”
Further forward, regular attacking duo Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore also miss out, with the former awaiting the birth of his fourth child and the latter out injured. Jermaine Jones also had to pull out of the squad after suffering a groin injury with the New England Revolution on Sunday
Still, the U.S. may well fancy their chances of scoring an impressive result on the road in Amsterdam. It has been a tough time for the Netherlands since last year’s World Cup, with the man who took over from Louis van Gaal, Guus Hiddink, encountering plenty of criticism. The team sit third in its qualifying group for Euro 2016, although it did get a morale-boosting win over Spain in a friendly last time out in March. For the Netherlands the match against the U.S. will act as preparation for a crucial qualifier against Latvia next Friday. The latest squad includes Manchester United duo Robin van Persie and Daley Blind, as well as new United signing Memphis Depay. But Arjen Robben is out through injury, while Wesley Sneijder will miss the match with the U.S. after playing in the Turkish Cup final with Galatasaray on Wednesday.
Prediction: The U.S. shouldn’t be overwhelmed against a Netherlands team that has been struggling and that will very much be focusing on next week’s qualifier. However, the U.S. attack in particular is lacking in experience of facing top-level international opposition and the Netherlands should have the required quality to pick up a narrow victory.
Predicted score: Netherlands 2-1 USA
Kickoff time: 2:30 p.m. EDT
TV channel: ESPN, UniMas, Univision Deportes