Eddie Johnson is now living proof: You can go home again.
It’s been two-and-a-half years since the last time EJ suited up and appeared in a US national team game. On Friday in Antigua, he’ll get the chance to make a long-awaited return to the fold, to add a cap to an international career that seemed forever stuck on 42.
But Johnson’s story of redemption also introduces a new plot line to the Saga of Jurgen Klinsmann: The USMNT manager is apparently more willing than we thought to dig into U.S. Soccer’s past to help its present. Well guess what, Jurgen: You may have to do more of the same.
With Jozy Altidore apparently in the doghouse and left-sided players dropping like flies from this current camp ahead of two crucial World Cup qualifiers, maybe Klinsmann needs to keep looking back at guys who played big parts for the national team over the past two cycles (and beyond) and pull some rabbits out of the retro hat.
Here we submit five that are ready, willing and able to go immediately…
Total US caps: 35
Caps under Klinsmann: 1
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: The US have serious depth issues at left back. Guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.
With first and second choices Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo both out vs. Antigua and Barbuda, there is no naturally left-sided player left in the pool to step in. Sure, Carlos Bocanegra has played out there, but he’s a speed liability. Michael Parkhurst is in the same boat.
What about the guy who was, for a time, Bob Bradley’s answer at left back for much of the 2010 World Cup cycle? Pearce logged major minutes at the position, especially in 2008 when his 11 caps were third-most of any US player. But he fell out of favor when his club minutes started drying up upon his jump to Germany’s Hansa Rostock.
What about now? He’s not just one of the more reliable defenders in MLS, but he’s versatile, too, now primarily a center back for New York (as he was at Chivas USA). And did we mention he’s left-footed, for crying out loud? Unless you prefer Jonny Bornstein…
Total US caps: 34
Caps under Klinsmann: 3
A crisis on the backline, you say? How about some consideration for another versatile option there – one who can play in the middle or out right? He can overlap, he passes well, he can serve in a mean cross and he defends well.
Oh, and he can play defensive midfield if he absolutely has to, which comes in handy if Klinsmann feels like overloading the pitch with multiple buckets. (So much for a departure from Bradley, eh?)
Spector is healthy and producing again, and has become one of Birmingham City’s more reliable faces. He’s also exquisitely experienced at the international level, dating back to the 2007 Gold Cup. Klinsmann knows this and has found use for the Manchester United youth product. But he has yet to appear in a game that matters, riding the pine for both qualifiers vs. Jamaica last month.
Total US caps: 25
Caps under Klinsmann: 0
Where is the love for the guy who was perhaps the best and most consistent defender the US had during their back-to-back summers in South Africa? Sure, it’s easy to understand that DeMerit’s near 12 months between club appearances after leaving Watford hurt his standing.
But in 2012, he’s been a rock of consistency. While the faces around him in may have changed, the ‘Caps captain has done what he’s always done: his job. At 110 miles an hour. It’s the only speed he knows.
DeMerit has been superb this season, making saving tackle after saving tackle, helping organize the backline and making up for the remade Vancouver offense’s annoying habit of overextending and leaving acres of real estate exposed. He’s been pulled out of position more often than a naval officer guarding the ship during Fleet Week.
He’s got a legitimate shot at the Defender of the Year award, too. And yet he has never even heard from Klinsmann. That’s a shame, because his attitude, experience and willingness to do anything that’s asked of him would be a huge asset for the youngsters coming down the pipe.
Total US caps: 10
Caps under Klinsmann: 0
Remember when Cooper was supposedly the heir-apparent to Brian McBride? Didn’t quite pan out that way, but Cooper’s narrative actually isn’t all that dissimilar to that of Johnson. After lighting up MLS defenses and showing potential for the US (though maybe not to the degree that EJ did), he left for Europe in 2009 and found that success harder to come by.
It took a return to MLS and surviving some early growing pains for Cooper to find his feet again. With New York, he’s back to his old self: His 16 goals scored for the Red Bulls is just two behind his career high with FC Dallas back in ’08.
He might not have the guile and “nasty” skills that, say, Alan Gordon has, but it’s hard to deny Cooper’s 6-foot-3, 210-pound bruising frame wouldn’t be an asset at center forward when Klinsmann needs a huge banger in the box who can play well with his back to goal.
Total US caps: 39
Caps under Klinsmann: 1
Is Benny the most underappreciated player in the national team pool? He may be one of the most underappreciated players in MLS, too.
Among his flank midfield peers, Feilhaber has better numbers than most, including Graham Zusi, Michael Farfan and Brad Davis. He has more chances created from open play, a better dribble rate and more passes into the final third per 90 minutes than any of them, save for Zusi. In short, he creates chances at a better rate than nearly anyone currently in the US pool.
Let’s not forget that pretty much any time Feilhaber was inserted onto the pitch during the 2009 Confederations Cup and 2010 World Cup, the US immediately played better, took more chances and generally pushed forward more consistently.
To many observers, Feilhaber is what Klinsmann had hoped Jose Torres would be: a possession-oriented, ball-at-his-feet midfielder who can patrol the left side of the pitch and cut in when necessary. With no Landon Donovan or Brek Shea in this camp, you’d think the Revs man could find a niche, especially against Guatemala.
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com. “The Throw-In” appears every Thursday.