The United States began their preparations in earnest for next year’s World Cup with the first of two European friendlies, against Scotland on Friday. The matches, which include a contest against Austria next Tuesday, will also bring to an end a fine year for Jurgen Klinsmann’s side in which they went on a record 12-game winning streak and finished top of the Hexagonal as well as winning the Gold Cup. But that will count for little with places up for grabs in Brazil next year.
“We made it clear it’s all about competition, it’s all about performance,” Klinsmann said, according to the USSoccer website. “It’s not about how many caps you played in the past, what you did in the past, it’s always about the moment, the present and the future. They came quite a long way.
“With having that mentality, that culture in the inner circle, they now understand they can’t rely on the past. They have to prove it for the future. That deepens your roster, that deepens your possibilities as a coach to look around and bring some new faces in there, and they understand right away what the National Team program is all about.”
Klinsmann has decided to leave out the players who are still involved in the MLS playoffs, while Landon Donovan, Brad Guzan, Clarence Goodson and Edgar Castillo are ruled out through injury. The U.S. coach had been enthusiastic about welcoming captain Clint Dempsey back into the fold after he missed the culmination to the World Cup qualifying campaign last month, but the Seattle Sounders man was forced to pull out of the squad after suffering a calf strain in training on Wednesday.
One of the men most eager to make the most of his opportunity will be Nottingham Forest right-back Eric Lichaj, who has been called up for the first time in Klinsmann’s tenure. Aron Johansson will again be looking to impress up front after his goal against Panama last time out, while Roma’s Michael Bradley returns in midfield after injury.
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There is no World Cup for which to prepare for Scotland, but manager Gordon Strachan will be eager to build on the momentum that has been built up of late under his charge. Scotland won three of their final four qualifiers, including two impressive victories over Croatia. Without a competitive match until Euro 2016 qualifying begins next fall, Strachan will experiment with some new faces, but won’t be revolutionizing the team’s basic philosophy.
"We've not got enough time to set out a new style of play,” he said, according to BBC Sport. “We've got to use our time, we don't get much of it, and keep it as simple as we can for the players but effective at the same time.
"We'll try to do that without making it a farce for the crowd and the players themselves because, if you have too many changes, it can affect the players and then devalues the game."
Scotland, who will be hoping to banish the memory of their 5-1 defeat to the U.S. in Florida last year, will be spearheaded by Steven Fletcher. The Sunderland striker has not played for his country since March, because of injury.
Where to watch: The international friendly will kick off from Hampden Park in Glasgow at 3.05 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN2, with a live stream available via Watch ESPN.