“When a down period comes and I leave him out of the roster, that’s not the end of the world. But it’s also a little signal...”
– USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann on Jozy Altidore in a ussoccer.com Q&A on Monday.
You can usually detect a coach’s personality in the team he or she leads, and Jurgen Klinsmann’s US national team is no exception.
The lineup that takes the field against Russia on Wednesday will likely feature several traits that have been more or less constant throughout his tenure:
- Tim Howard will guard the nets;
- German-Americans will be involved (as many as five could feature in Krasnodar);
- Someone he was previously accused of “ignoring,” “snubbing” or “exiling” will probably play a pivotal role.
Over the 15 months that he’s been in charge and selecting players, Klinsmann has almost been constantly been depicted as missing out on some obviously in-form talent somewhere in the USMNT’s diverse, far-flung player pool.
Maybe it’s just a talking point, a sign of the accelerating interest in, and thus ever-increasingly-sensational media coverage of, the national team. That in and of itself could be a sign of progress, inching towards the insatiable news cycles found in other parts of the world.
Remember, not too far into his tenure Klinsmann “dropped” Michael Bradley, prompting questions about potential awkwardness in dealing with his father Bob’s replacement – or perhaps a case of a new manager’s proverbial “housecleaning.”
In fact, the focused midfielder was negotiating his transition to a new league, language and culture in Italy at that point, and it wasn’t long before his abilities made him a hot Serie A commodity and a near-automatic starter for his country again.
Herculez Gomez was left off the national team during one of the hottest stretches of his career, but got his shot, proved his value and remains a constant despite fluctuations in his scoring and playing time for Santos Laguna in the months since.
Sacha Kljestan had already worked his way up to international level when he left his MLS club (where he was the best player) to chase, and ultimately, capture elite European and Champions League playing time in Belgium. Subsequently he was so frustrated not to receive a US call-up that he made his famous “Are you even watching???” lament on Twitter.
But this week, he is now quite possibly in line to make his third straight appearance for the Yanks.
This fall it was Jozy Altidore’s turn to feel the sting of rejection – that’s how we imagine it would feel, at least – when Klinsmann left him in the Netherlands for a brace of crucial CONCACAF qualifiers despite his raging form for AZ Alkmaar.
Fans and pundits clucked nervously, wondered if the coach’s worryingly vague explanations were hiding something deeper. Altidore stewed, Eddie Johnson and Alan Gordon chipped in and the US trundled through its final hurdle before the Hexagonal.
Now, Altidore is set to return to the squad sheet, he’s maintained his progress in club play and will be eager to make his mark against one of the stingiest defenses in Europe in Krasnodar.
“You have guys where you say, ‘I wish I could invite him because he should be here as well,’ but there’s an established ranking, like with every national team program, and they are there for a reason,” Klinsmann told MLSsoccer.com back in March.
“But it doesn’t mean that you kind of downsize somebody else. It’s because the spot is taken.”
This time around Timmy Chandler has gotten yet another introduction. Juan Agudelo is back in the fold, and several of his Olympic teammates are being introduced. Most, perhaps even all of them will probably get dropped in the future – and, when they earn it, brought back.
Almost every coach has to take trusted players for granted at some point. Credit Klinsmann for making his “short list” a dynamic one.