HOUSTON – In the waning moments of an eventual loss to Jamaica, US national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann turned to Alan Gordon to serve as a target man up front. The gambit did not work, and the US careened out of the Gold Cup with a 2-1 defeat.
But if the US are aiming for a fresh look at that position in the near future, Will Bruin believes he can be that player.
Bruin, who has two international appearances to his name, has been on the US radar in the past and was a part of the Gold Cup-winning USMNT squad in 2013. Since then, Bruin’s been left to focus on his Houston Dynamo career, and has nine goals in all competitions with half of the 2015 campaign gone. His production and improvement as a target striker this season now have him looking back towards the red, white and blue.
Dynamo head coach Owen Coyle agrees.
“I think Will’s really grasped what we’re looking for in that position. He’s on eight goals now … more than a tally of goals I think we’ve seen a better all-around player in terms of what he brings to the team,” Coyle said. “Sometimes you’ll have strikers that if they don’t score they don’t really contribute to the game. In Will Bruin’s case that’s changed dramatically.
“I think the US has some terrific strikers but I think Will game-by-game is pushing himself to get in that bracket,” Coyle continued. “I think Will’s shown every game he can lead the line and can be a real threat and be a real threat. If he keeps doing that I think everyone’s going to sit up and take notice of what Will’s doing.”
Despite being 6-foot-2 and 194 pounds, Bruin has struggled at times to provide consistent hold-up play for the Dynamo, something that Gordon excels at. That could have been the reason for Gordon's inclusion on this Gold Cup roster while Bruin was left out in the cold.
“I was frustrated I wasn’t on the [35-man preliminary roster] to be honest but that’s not in my control,” Bruin said. “Early on in the season I wasn’t starting and I’m sure that had a role in it. One thing I’ve been stressing a lot and one thing [US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann] was stressing last time I was in camp is he wants to see it consistently. That’s my main focus right now, bringing it week-in-and-week-out. If I can keep it going towards the end of the year hopefully I’ll have a shot at the September friendlies or next year.”
When the roster for the Gold Cup came out Bruin’s name warranted discussion. He had seven goals at the time and was on a hot streak. Since then he’s scored twice, once in league play and once on Tuesday in US Open Cup play.
Should he continue with his strong form, Bruin could be an option for the US moving forward in 2015. The US currently count friendlies against Peru and Brazil, a one-game playoff for a spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup and the start of 2018 World Cup qualifying among their international obligations in the fall.
Playing as a center forward on a weekly basis will help with Bruin's quest. With a new head coach in Coyle this season, 25-year-old has spent his time leading the line as a solo forward.
Adapting to that role is another place where he has helped himself as, besides scoring, he’s showing he can function as a solo forward something he’s struggled with in the past.
“It’s a similar formation they play as to what we played. It’s literally the same thing man-for-man. If I take care of it here hopefully it’ll take care of it on the international stage,” Bruin said. “If I can keep honing my craft and getting better as a true number nine it looks like that’s the route more teams are going these days. That’s how the national teams are going. You don’t see the 4-4-2 as much. I’m just going with the number nine, sticking with it and building my tools around that.”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com.