STANFORD, Calif. – Perhaps no player dug himself a deeper hole during the US national team’s run-up to the World Cup than German-American defender Timmy Chandler, who nearly worked his way completely off the roster last February.
That’s when the 24-year-old Nürnberg defender completely wilted in the heat during the USMNT’s 2-1 loss in Honduras to open their qualifying campaign, an experience Chandler himself dubbed earlier this week as “the most unbelievable game in my life.”
US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said he spoke with Chandler following that game and told him he would leave him out of the US rotation for a spell, but that whenever Chandler was healthy and willing to return, there was a spot in camp.
“I always talked with him, ‘I want you whenever you come. I need you to be 1,000 percent committed to everything here,’ even if he said that before," Klinsmann told reporters on Friday following his press conference at Stanford University. “I said, ‘Your team, everybody, needs to see that.’”
After declining previous call-ups in 2012, Chandler’s mind was on board for the US in 2013, but his body was less willing. He battled a knee injury that required surgery and he plummeted down the depth chart for the US team, who largely rode Seattle Sounders handyman Brad Evans as a worthy stop-gap solution during the World Cup qualifying run.
But, Klinsmann said, he never fell off the US radar completely. The USMNT coaching staff watched Chandler’s progress at Nürnberg and even utilized a private fitness coach to work with Chandler after his knee surgery so that he could be ready to compete for a spot on the World Cup roster.
“Coming in here, that was one of the question marks,” Klinsmann said. “Could he show it right away? Is he behind or is he right away up for 50-50 battles?”
Klinsmann said he was impressed with Chandler’s emergence as a leader in Nürnberg’s locker room despite their eventual relegation from the Bundesliga this spring, and that Chandler has risen to the challenge since USMNT camp convened earlier this month.
Thursday’s exclusion of Evans and Columbus Crew veteran defender Michael Parkhurst seem to be proof of that, and with Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron now a more likely fit at center back, Chandler appears to be the de-facto starter at right back when the World Cup opens next month.
And that’s a move few would have predicted after Chandler’s disaster in San Pedro Sula last year.
“I told him, 'Listen, you get that chance to come into the 30-man roster, but you have to prove that to everyone here,'” Klinsmann said. “And from Day 1, he took over. He did that.”
“He’s a different Timmy now than he was a year-and-a-half ago.”