With Euro stars out, Klinsmann leans on unproven faces
With a number of his most talented players either on the mend from injuries or still struggling just to find their preseason form in Europe, Jurgen Klinsmann knows all too well what he’s missing right now in Mexico City.
But the US national team coach doesn’t exactly appear shaken by the daunting task that looms against Mexico at Estadio Azteca on Wednesday (8 pm ET, ESPN2/Univision), even with some youngsters and newcomers about to face the fire for the first real time in their international careers.
In fact, Klinsmann stuck to his script during a teleconference with media after he released his 23-man group for the Mexico match on Sunday, insisting that such an imposing challenge will benefit the US program even at a time when El Tri are licking their chops at another chance to prove they are the best team on the continent.
“You always see it as an opportunity. If you leave some players behind … that gives you an opportunity to see some players on a very high international level,” Klinsmann said. “Suddenly, with a game in Mexico City … those are the environments when you want to see them handle the situation and get a first impression of those guys.
“I’m not worried at all about having more younger players or even new faces coming in … it’s a huge opportunity for those players coming now to Mexico City.”
Klinsmann somewhat unsurprisingly left several prominent Europe-based players home for this match, the first time the US will play at Estadio Azteca since a 2-1 loss to EL Tri in a World Cup qualifier on Aug. 12, 2009. Among the names missing from the list released Sunday are captain Carlos Bocanegra, midfielder Michael Bradley, veteran defender Steve Cherundolo and perhaps most crucially Clint Dempsey, whose preseason fitness level and precarious status with Fulham at least for now trump any national team duties.
"The European players are not there yet, they are just simply in preseason," Klinsmann said bluntly. "They're simply running behind right now."
In their stead is a group of largely MLS and Mexico-based players still a bit short in the tooth but far more fit right now than their European counterparts. The most internationally savvy player on the tam’s backline is arguably 24-year old Fabian Johnson, and three players – Sporting Kansas City’s Matt Besler (above, left) and the San Jose Earthquakes pair of All-Star Steven Beitashour (above, right) and Alan Gordon – have yet to earn their first cap.
Still, Klinsmann has always been as invested in the development of younger players as fine-tuning of his veterans. He has some of the latter in this group (forward Landon Donovan, goalkeeper Tim Howard and surprise pick DaMarcus Beasley were all among the 23 selected) but perhaps more of the former, including players like San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski, Sporting Kansas City’s Graham Zusi and recent Stoke City transfer Geoff Cameron, three players still looking to break into Klinsmann’s inner circle and stay there.
The forward crop consists of Donovan and red-hot Santos Laguna striker Herculez Gomez, with Jozy Altidore absent while still in preseason form despite scoring two goals for Dutch side AZ Alkmaar against Ajax on Sunday. Terrence Boyd (right), a 21-year old star of the failed US Olympic qualifying team who Klinsmann on Sunday said took the team’s disappointing finish in stride the best of his teammates, joins the veterans in the mix.
The alternate waiting in the wings is D.C. United attacker Chris Pontius who, despite another solid season and his first All-Star appearance last month, has never feautred for the US team.
Add in faces like Mexico-based defenders Michael Orozco Fiscal and Edgar Castillo, US Under-23 star Joe Corona (above, center) and even budding Hoffenheim star Danny Williams, and Klinsmann’s group is surprisingly green for such a tough task against Mexico, who last week announced that Europe-based stars Andrés Guardado and Javier “Chicharito” Hernández will headline their 18-man crew.
“Candidly, I don’t think it’s that important, but for a lot of guys that don’t get a lot of experience, I think that this will be a good experience," Donovan said. "But it’s an awkward fixture date, and I would say that most if not all the players don’t like this fixture date. We’d much rather do away with it, but it’s still a good opportunity to get a game like this. ... All things being equal, it’s still against Mexico, so we’ll be ready to play.”
But Klinsmann, unsurprisingly, seemed more than content on Sunday with that situation.
“To get players exposed to these kinds of games is a priority,” Klinsmann said. “Is it the highest priority, maybe not. At the end of the day … I want to win Wednesday night over Mexico. But over the stretch of the next two years I want to get as much information as I can of those players coming through the ranks.
“When you have a case like this, with European players behind things right now … this is a good moment. This gives [the newcomers] the chance to come in and prove their value.”