GUADALAJARA, Mexico – Since Jurgen Klinsmann took charge of the US national team in the summer of 2011, there has been steady ebb and flow of Liga MX players in and out of his squads.
Four were included in his first squad, with three starting that 1-1 draw against Mexico, but in the US’ 2-1 loss in Honduras last time out, not one Mexico-based player even saw playing time.
Could that be about to change once again? If it is down strictly to players’ form, the answer could be yes, with Liga MX Yanks enjoying something of an upwards surge in recent months.
The biggest revelation this Clausura has been Jose Torres, who has stepped up his play since his offseason move from Pachuca to Tigres UANL. Perhaps it was the routine of being at Pachuca for almost 10 years, but the 25-year-old central midfielder (above) has an extra spring in his step. His tricky, technical passing has been enhanced with a more offensive mentality and “El Gringo” is an inked-in regular in central midfield alongside Carlos Salcido.
The question seems not to be whether Torres has the requisite quality to play international soccer, but if his delicate style is suited to what Klinsmann wants from the US side moving forward. Games against Costa Rica and Mexico seem perfectly suited to the diminutive Torres and it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to see him given another chance – just not on the wing.
A couple hours' drive west from Monterrey in Torreón, Herculez Gomez (at right) has consolidated a regular starting place really for the first time since he moved to Mexico in early 2010. Averaging a goal every two games for Santos Laguna this season, Gomez has been played on the wing, as well as up front alongside Oribe Peralta by incoming Portuguese coach Pedro Caixinha.
Four goals in his last four games ahead of the qualifiers speaks for itself, but Gomez is playing with renewed confidence in his overall game, too. No longer is the Las Vegas native on the fringe, fighting his way in and proving himself. Now he has a significantly greater responsibility and seems to be relishing the new challenge.
Heading northwest to the US border, Joe Corona's role with Club Tijuana has evolved in recent months and it could have repercussions for his role in the national team. The 22-year-old is no longer playing on the wing or in the No. 10 role with which he is usually associated. Corona is now a regular in the heart of the midfield for Xolos, charged with pressuring and winning the ball back, as well as being the catalyst for Tijuana’s quick breaks.
Klinsmann often talks about players testing themselves, taking on challenges and taking their game to new levels through those experiences. While it may still be early to hand Corona national team starts in vital qualifiers, he is a player adhering to his national team coach’s words with performances in big games home and away in the Copa Libertadores.
Teammate Edgar Castillo is arguably now surpassing the kind of form that saw him breakout as a teenager at Santos Laguna, but is recovering from a facial injury and is in a fitness race to make the qualifiers.
Over at Castillo’s former club, Puebla, Michael Orozco Fiscal has re-established himself as a Liga MX regular after a barren last few months at San Luis. The Southern California native has also been shifted out to right back, where he has been contributing at both ends of the pitch for a much-improved La Franja this season. The only blotch on Orozco Fiscal’s copybook this season is the two red cards he has received.
Finally, the player with more US caps than all of the above combined: DaMarcus Beasley. Eight starts in 10 league games tells you that Puebla coach Manuel Lapuente holds him in high regard, as does the fact Beasley has been keeping Argentine Matías Alustiza on the bench.
The one complaint is that two goals in his last 22 league games isn’t good enough, especially considering the positions he has got into in recent games, but he did score a vital goal in Puebla’s Copa MX tie with Pachuca on Wednesday.
But Beasley’s biggest strength is that he is a player without question marks against his name and one from whom Klinsmann knows exactly what he can expect.
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.