With just a few months before the 2014 World Cup, the US national team coaching staff has raised its scouting game, looking for the best and most prepared American players to go to Brazil.
And with the USMNT's latest friendly right around the corner, the message to players from head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is that they have a very short window to impress before the World Cup roster is named.
Klinsmann discussed the play of notable MLS stars like Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi, and Maurice Edu, as well as a variety of other topics, in an interview on US Soccer's website on Wednesday, following the release of the USMNT roster for the friendly on April 2 against Mexico in Glendale, Ariz. (11 pm ET, ESPN, UniMas).
With 19 players on the 22-man roster for the friendly coming from MLS, Klinsmann expressed his satisfaction at seeing the league season underway, and spoke about Bradley's start with Toronto FC.
“Definitely having MLS back in the picture and picking up its rhythm, it’s just great seeing Michael Bradley there on the field showing everybody how good of a player he is," the USMNT boss said.
He continued: "It’s very important to us that our leaders in our group are really getting a rhythm and getting games in. Seeing Michael back on the field and the others as well is really important.”
Klinsmann mentioned the three MLS sides in CONCACAF Champions League failing to progress in the knockout stages last week, calling the results, "a big bummer for us and gives us a lot of questions to be answered on how can we avoid that next time."
But it appears scheduling the friendly against the US' biggest rival, Mexico, was intended to provide players called in a litmus test of sorts on the international stage ahead of the World Cup roster announcement.
"It is definitely a game we need to see where our MLS- and Mexican-based players are," Klinsmann said. "They need to prove now that they badly want to go to Brazil. Therefore, it’s going to be a tense couple of days.
"It’s going to be a test for what they can expect going into our World Cup preparations because it’s performing at the right time. It’s about understanding that they have to be tough now. It’s not about slowly getting into a rhythm, it’s about showing if you deserve to get into this World Cup roster."
Because of the timing of the friendly, Klinsmann said his message to the players is different than at the annual January camp, where players have an extended opportunity to impress.
"In that way, it will be a little bit different camp," he said. "It will be measured different because it’s the last game before we go into World Cup preparations. Therefore we tell the players from Day 1 when they come in on Sunday to step it up."