World Cup: USMNT veterans say injection of youth a refreshing roster move

STANFORD, Calif. – Tim Howard is looking older and older these days, and it’s not just because he had Stanford University students clamoring for his autograph all week at the US team’s World Cup camp.

It’s actually because of the kids running around on the field with the Howard, who took a second Friday to grab his bearings after the US team’s 23-man roster worked out for the first time.

“I am old,” Howard quipped. “Most of these guys are closer to my son’s age than mine.”

At 35 years old, Howard is the oldest player on Jurgen Klinsmann’s roster for Brazil, and one of only a few who have played on such a big stage before. After Thursday’s cuts left veterans Landon Donovan, Maurice Edu and Clarence Goodson on the outside looking in, only five players remain in the group who saw time on the field in South Africa in 2010, the fewest amount of holdovers from the previous cycle on the US team since 1990.

Seven of the players are 24 years or younger and three are under the age of 21, leaving a heap of responsibility of Howard and the rest of the US team’s veterans to steady the ship if things get rough after the Americans open the tournament June 16 against Ghana in Natal.

“It’s a lot of responsibility,” Howard said. “I go back to 2010, you had a bunch of those guys. You could almost let your hair down a little bit, you didn’t have to stay on top of things as much. But the five guys who have been around and [backup goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who was also on the 2010 team], you have to stay on top guys to make everything is right, but it hasn’t been a problem.”

If there’s been one theme to emerge since Klinsmann’s cuts earlier this week, it’s been the strikingly eclectic mix of players left standing. Of course there are different backgrounds at play – seven of the players were raised primarily in Europe, making for a far more diverse camp than in years past – but it’s impossible to ignore the age disparity between some of the group’s oldest and youngest players, like the outspoken leader Howard and the team’s youngest player, soft-spoken 18-year-old Bayern Munich winger Julian Green.

Still, those veterans appear to be thrilled with the potential benefits from the younger players, and Klinsmann isn’t the first to tap the system’s kids in need of a potential spark. Donovan and winger DaMarcus Beasley started for Bruce Arena’s team at just 20 years old in 2002, while Bob Bradley leaned on 20-year-old striker Jozy Altidore as one of his top scoring options in 2010.

This team boasts fresh faces like Green, hulking German-American defender John Brooks (20), Seattle Sounders defender DeAndre Yedlin (20) and speedy right back Timmy Chandler (24), all relatively new to the US team and certainly new to the pressures of the World Cup.

“To have some younger guys, guys who aren’t even able to really understand what it’s all about and are able to use their enthusiasm and excitement to push the group on in that way, I think that helps,” midifelder Michael Bradley said. “In any team you want to have balance, and I think we have that.”

Bradley knows a thing or two about drawing huge responsibilities at a young age. After all, he was just 22 years old when he logged every minute of four games in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, drawing rave reviews while anchoring the US midfield.

“From a personal experience in 2010 in South Africa,” he said, “it wasn’t like you’re running around the field thinking to yourself, ‘I’ve never played in a World Cup, this is all new to me!’”

The team actually boasts a wealth of players over the age of 30 years old - Howard, defender DaMarcus Beasley (32), striker Clint Dempsey (32) and midfielder Jermaine Jones (32) are the likely starters of that group – and the additions of MLS veterans Kyle Beckerman (32), Brad Davis (32) and Chris Wondolowski (31) give the team enough of a veteran presence, according to Howard.

“You have a lot of guys who want to do big things on the world’s stage, and that, for me, is important,” he said. “We have enough experience that the older guys can carry the group, so having that youth is nice. It’s refreshing.”

The team’s youngsters have also provided for a different energy during the team’s training sessions at Stanford, according to Jones.

“You never can rest,” Jones said. “You have some players who know they will play, but you have to give 100 percent in training, too, because you have the small kids, and they want to play, too.

“Sometimes it’s hard; we’re 32. Then you have kids like 19 or 20 years old they run like crazy. But for the whole group, I think it’s good we have the kids.”

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