Commentary: USMNT experiences next wave of Jurgen Klinsmann's youth movement
If you thought Jurgen Klinsmann – with his star power, hefty contract renewal and the adoration of U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati – was playing with house money before, just take a look at his latest US national team roster.
Next month's visit to the Czech Republic is a friendly at the very dawn of a new World Cup cycle, so Klinsmann was always going to call in a host of new faces, and mostly young ones at that.
But he's pushed that approach to the fullest extent imaginable, plucking some promising kids whose identities will be unfamiliar to all but the hardest of hard-core observers of the United States' talent pipeline. (Half a dozen callups will be hunting for their senior-team debuts, and two-thirds of them are 24 or younger.)
And in doing so, he's issued the latest of his many challenges to the incumbent members of his squad.
“Obviously you always respect your established players and you always want to give them the space to continue their good work,” said Klinsmann in a Q&A with ussoccer.com released in conjunction with Thursday's roster announcement. “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.”
It's hard to decide where to begin, but let's start between the pipes. While many fans assumed that Aston Villa regular Brad Guzan was the obvious successor to Tim Howard when the Brazil 2014 hero announced his yearlong international sabbatical earlier this month, Klinsmann's selection of Nick Rimando – the roster's only MLS representative for this midweek, in-season friendly – suggests that the coach is in no great hurry to officially anoint Guzan.
And in the unlikely event that either of them were getting too comfortable, he's called on Cody Cropper, a promising 21-year-old and longtime youth national teamer who's already spent training time with the USMNT and recently signed a new contract at English youth incubator Southampton. Many observers see him on the inside track for the starting goalkeeper's role on the Under-23 team that will seek to represent the US at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
In defense, surprise World Cup hero John Brooks is a known quantity given his age. So the eye is drawn to Greg Garza, the Texan left back who dislodged fellow Yank Edgar Castillo from that spot at Club Tijuana and now looks poised to stake his claim as the best option at the most problematic position in USMNT history.
Klinsmann has joked that the ageless DaMarcus Beasley may still be on his roster as a 36-year-old at Russia 2018; it's up to Garza, who just turned 23, to ensure that DMB would do so as a reserve.
In midfield, Emerson Hyndman – who's been tipped as the next big thing in US soccer since elementary school – has gotten his first USMNT call a bit sooner than most had reason to expect. The Fulham FC schemer is the grandson of former FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman and has benefitted from a rich soccer upbringing, having joined the Cottagers' youth academy in 2011 at age 15 thanks to the European Union passport gained from his Portuguese heritage.
Hyndman came of age as a playmaker but has recently manned more of a box-to-box role for Fulham – and he's been one of Felix Magath's favorites since the manager adopted a youth-first approach upon their relegation to the English Championship.
But Klinsmann's boldest selections can be found up front – a promising sign given the USMNT's attacking shortcomings in Brazil. Rubio Rubin was already the pride of Oregon when he left the Timbers Academy to sign a four-year contract with Dutch club FC Utrecht earlier this year, and he's made a splash at the Eredivisie side, already racking up starts and minutes at age 18. And remember: He's a dual-eligible Mexican-American, so an early call from Klinsmann might help decide his international future.
And in the biggest stunner of all, a college player will join the USMNT for the first time in a generation as Stanford star Jordan Morris has earned an opportunity that will stun many national-team supporters, but thrill NCAA watchers.
A product of the Seattle Sounders youth system who Sounders fans are fervently hoping will become the club's next Homegrown signing, Morris was named the US Soccer Development Academy's National Player of the Year in 2013 and he quickly followed that up with a breakout freshman season for the Cardinal featuring six goals and seven assists in 1,588 minutes of play.
Will these kids, who are finally beginning to fulfill the federation's long-term mission of grooming brains instead of brawn, play a role in the next cycle? Will they even see the field in Prague on Sept. 3?
A look back at the motley roster called for the USMNT's first match after World Cup 2010 provides a reminder of how ephemeral these games can be. But if Klinsmann – after more than three years in his post, it must be said – is still serious about starting a revolution, this is where he opens up his new front.