CARSON, Calif. – Jurgen Klinsmann won't have many chances to bring together prospective US national team players before he decides in early June on a World Cup roster – the Europe-based players will get a run against Ukraine on March 5 in Kharkiv, and U.S. Soccer is working to finalize an April date (reportedly against Mexico) for those in North America – so players are going to be gauged on their club form like never before.
Klinsmann and his staff have a five-player foundation they are looking to construct the team around, and there are nearly two dozen players in Europe aiming to fill those roles.
The number of unclaimed spots that exist four months before the action begins in Brazil isn't certain – the US coach won't talk numbers – but was a topic of debate following Chris Wondolowski's performance in the Yanks' 2-0 win Saturday over South Korea at StubHub Center.
What is the competition like for jobs up front?
“To be clear,” Klinsmann said, “I think Jozy [Altidore], once he's keeping his playing rhythm and the quality he has, is our number one center forward that we have, and Clint [Dempsey] is the player behind him [as the second forward].
“You know, we often talk about the spine of our team, which starts with Timmy [Howard] and then goes through midfield with Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley, and then Clint and Jozy. I think this is something to build around. A lot of players that around these guys prove more and more their qualities, and they push for the starting spot and others push for getting into the roster at the end of the day.”
The contingent of Europe-based players pushing for starting roles and roster spots is diverse and includes veterans such as Hannover 96's Steve Cherundolo, Sheffield Wednesday's Oguchi Onyewu and Anderlecht's Sacha Kljestan, and youngsters such as AZ Alkmaar's Aron Johannsson, Rapid Vienna's Terrence Boyd, FC Nürnberg's Timmy Chandler and Hertha Berlin's John Brooks.
The best-case scenario would allow Klinsmann time to work with all of them before he must submit a 30-man roster on May 13 and the 23-man list on June 2. It isn't going to happen.
“It's a difficult task for all of us coaches that have the teams going into the World Cup,” he said. “With only one FIFA fixture date in March, there's not much that you can do, especially with a 48-hour release window. So you get the game, you get some kind of answers from that one game, but the real workload for the players is in their club teams. That means scouting becomes really crucial.”
He has Andreas Herzog in Vienna and Matthias Hamann in Germany studying the Europe-based players, the majority of them playing in England or Germany.
“Everything is televised, which is wonderful, too. So now it's our job, basically, to observe them, to watch,” Klinsmann said. “Their coaches are our main connection, because they tell us how they're doing in training, how they do off the field, how they do – obviously – in the games. All that information is really, really important for us now going for the next couple of months, and then we have to make the decisions in May.”