Now things are getting interesting. The 24-man roster US national team boss Jurgen Klinsmann named on Thursday is only his second squad in his green tenure, but if what fans were looking for under the new regime was change, they’re getting it.
The next step, though, is finding out if it’s change we can believe in.
Klinsmann’s first roster for the Mexico friendly earlier this month was hastily, if meticulously, assembled. The German icon promised he’d dissect his options to death and was open to any and all suggestions — particularly from MLS coaching staffs — but how much work could he really have done in a week’s time between accepting the gig and naming a squad?
Very little. But Thursday’s announced roster — which will convene for a week’s camp at the Home Depot Center for friendlies against Costa Rica on Sept. 2 and at Belgium on Sept. 6 — provides some clues as to where Klinsmann sees his team heading.
We’ve known for some time that Klinsmann is a big believer in quality in MLS, having been around the league while living in Southern California for more than a decade and flitting in and out of the HDC dozens of times.
But the inclusion of Kyle Beckerman, Heath Pearce and Jeff Larentowicz isn’t just a feel-good story for three veterans whose national-team careers seemingly passed them by under Bob Bradley. It’s a clear sign that the empty-bucket central midfield tactic that to a degree defined Bradley’s tenure is gone for good. It’s a sign that the search for a solution at left back isn’t time to panic.
Beckerman and Larentowicz have very clearly defined roles with their club teams, and it’s those skills that Klinsmann wants out of the Real Salt Lake and Colorado Rapids hard men to bring to his set-up. Pearce may not have the speed of his younger years, but he’s having a career year with Chivas USA while showing versatility along the back line.
But there’s a bigger lesson here: Unlike Bradley, Klinsmann isn’t necessarily going to ask players to perform roles on his US squad that they aren’t accustomed to doing with their club teams. He may have in his head a clear idea of the set-up he plans on running, but he’ll mold his formation to the skill sets he has on hand, not the other way around.
In other words, nothing is being ruled out early in the Klinsmann Era. Experimentation is in; the same old is out. There is no better time than right now for the new guy to throw things at the wall and see what sticks — formations, tactical shifts, varying combinations of players. The US won’t play a meaningful game for months, so this is the time to see what works and what doesn’t.
And that’s why it’s so great to see young, fresh faces in camp. True, guys like Edgar Castillo, Timmy Chandler, Zach Loyd, Michael Orozco Fiscal, Brek Shea and Teal Bunbury all got their first caps under Bradley. But Klinsmann is continuing to lay the groundwork with the youth he has at his disposal, and is rewarding good play by youngsters at the club level with a real chance for them to stake their claim at remaining in the picture.
Speaking of young surprises, D.C. United’s Bill Hamid received his second call-up in as many squads named by Klinsmann, and the 20-year-old could actually get his first cap this time around. Raise your hand if you had Hamid penciled in as a possibility to be next in line to fill the enormous cleats carved out by previous USMNT ‘keepers.
And the inclusion of German-born midfielder Fabian Johnson again shows Klinsmann is willing to bring fresh perspective to the squad, and he won’t waste any time in doing so. Johnson revealed less than a week ago that he was eligible and willing to play for the US — it seemingly took four days for Klinsmann and his staff to make contact with the Hoffenheim youngster and act.
Of course, it’s still early. Klinsmann has been on the job for less than a month, and there’s no way to evaluate anything at this point, especially with two friendlies ahead. But your first impressions say a lot about your intentions and your willingness to listen.
Based on Thursday’s announced roster, fans have a lot of reasons to be excited.
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com. “The Throw-In” appears every Thursday.