Sometime in the next 48 hours, US men’s national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann will announce his roster for the Yanks’ upcoming international friendly against Mexico at the imposing Estadio Azteca, three days after El Tri released their own star-studded squad list.
Early rumblings suggest that this week’s USMNT lineup will not offer an inordinate number of surprises. Based on a few (apparently annoyed) remarks from the technical staff at his brand-new club, English Premier League battlers Stoke City, we can be fairly sure Geoff Cameron will be present, and challenging for a a starting spot in central defense.
Writing Carlos Bocanegra’s name next to his on the lineup sheet would be no great risk, either. His financially troubled club Rangers FC is not likely to be challenged by its new colleagues in the Scottish fourth tier anytime soon and the US veteran won’t make the long trip from Great Britain to sit on the bench, or for that matter, chase after Mexico’s tricky wingers as a left back.
Klinsmann is already in Mexico to scout the weekend’s Liga MX matches, which only increases the already-strong odds that the United States’ south-of-the-border contingent will be well-represented on Wednesday. Herculez Gomez has scored two goals in Santos Laguna’s first three games of the season, while a clash between Tijuana and Pachuca should tempt the German-American gaffer to Estadio Hidalgo Saturday night to watch Jose Francisco Torres, Joe Corona and Edgar Castillo in person.
If Klinsmann wants to make the most of his time down south, he could give a few other, more peripheral figures a chance – the likes of DaMarcus Beasley (at right, who has started all three of Puebla’s games so far) Michael Orozco Fiscal (a regular for San Luis) or even Marco Vidal, a 26-year-old midfielder from Dallas presently plying his trade in the FMF’s second tier with Lobos BUAP who has yet to commit his international future to Mexico or the USA.
But the Azteca is a harsh environment in which to introduce newcomers, and a truly devastating loss – always a possibility in the massive venue where El Tri enjoy one of the best home records in world soccer – could affect the USMNT’s mentality for their expected return visit during the Hexagonal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. So most managers in Klinsmann’s place would play it close to the vest, and field a first-choice team arranged in a cagey, defensive setup mindful of Mexico’s fantastic form over the past year or so.
Jurgen Klinsmann is not like most managers, however.
Always keen to stretch the boundaries of what his team and its fans consider possible, Klinsmann might try to go blow-for-blow with El Tri, at least in patches, which could prompt a blend of experience and energy. By and large, MLS players in midseason form are better equipped for the latter task than their European-based counterparts, and a few names come quickly to mind.
Vancouver defender and 2010 World Cup vet Jay DeMerit (right) has been a rock for the resurgent Whitecaps, but has yet to move the needle with the current US technical staff. Razor-sharp this season, Sounders striker Eddie Johnson played on stages of this magnitude before. D.C. United’s Chris Pontius has only had a cup of coffee on the international level, but possesses the temperament, skill and unpredictability to create danger in one of the USMNT’s wing positions. And though Klinsmann’s true estimation of runaway MLS scoring leader Chris Wondolowski remains unclear, few strikers in the American pool can match his pure goal-poaching expertise.
Landon Donovan’s LA Galaxy have a league match at Columbus on Wednesday night, but LD rarely misses a big occasion for his country and both his mentality and quality will be key to the Yanks’ hopes in Mexico City. (His partner-in-crime Clint Dempsey’s selection is a murkier picture: the Texan is still ramping up his fitness and remains at the center of a protracted transfer saga between current club Fulham and a list of suitors headed by Liverpool.)
Finally, if Klinsmann really aspires to play a wild card, he’ll end Brek Shea’s exile from the national team. Yes, the FC Dallas maverick has been well short of his best for months now and even antagonized his club coach, Schellas Hyndman, a few games ago. But those eager to write Shea off as US soccer’s next lost wunderkind would do well to remember that he was the game-changer in the USMNT’s last match against Mexico, coming off the bench to create Robbie Rogers’ equalizer in the 1-1 draw in Philadelphia exactly one year ago today.
If Klinsmann truly believes in FCD’s resident free spirit, he’ll give him a chance to grab the spotlight in a positive way by using him as an impact substitute on Wednesday. And let’s face it: if the Yanks are going to overturn their miserable 0-8-1 all-time record at Azteca, it’s probably going to require something unconventional.