It begins again.
In less than a week, the United States will play the Czech Republic in Prague. The first friendly of the 2018 World Cup cycle will feature the United States playing a midlevel Czech Republic team in Europe.
It won’t be the marquee matchup that the near-game against Colombia would have been. It’s the first friendly after the 2014 World Cup, and it shouldn’t be a big test of the United States system. After the World Cup, players see a drop in fitness and slowly return back to their domestic clubs. This first match is the time to change the guard, and look forward to the next World Cup cycle.
Several players that were likely to feature for the United States will not be available. Aron Johannsson and Terrence Boyd are still recovering from injuries that will keep them out of competition until October. Danny Williams is still recovering from knee issues. Jermaine Jones has joined MLS. Oguchi Onyewu at 32 remains a free agent. Juan Agudelo is a free agent.
In addition, MLS continues to demonstrate clear contempt for the FIFA fixture date by scheduling games in that window. Throughout the calendar year, FIFA, the global body of soccer schedules weeks where teams are required to release their players for international matches. Most leagues take breaks during these “windows”, MLS is not one. In the past, Jurgen has done his best to not tax MLS teams by requiring players to be released for national team duty. However, considering the current status of the US pool for the Czech Republic game, Jurgen should deviate and call MLS players.
The talent pool for this game is one reminiscent of earlier USMNT days. Freddy Adu, would not come close to being the most questionable inclusion on this roster.
I’ve decided to informally call these stories “To Russia With Goals”, and the centerpiece of them will be my look to who I think Jurgen should call into the camp, and who I think Klinsmann will call. This is the first one of the cycle, so It’s about a 50-50 between those two.
Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Bobby Wood (1860 Munich), Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo),
Midfielders: Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Emerson Hyndman (Fulham), Jonathan Spector (Birmingham City), Brek Shea (Stoke City), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew), Joe Gyau (Dortmund Reserves), *Gedion Zelalem (Arsenal) +Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht) %Freddy Adu (Jagodina)
Defenders: Fabian Johnson (Monchengladbach), Timmy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Will Packwood (Birmingham City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest), Tim Ream (Bolton)
Goalkeepers: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Cody Cropper (Southampton), David Yelldell (Bayer 04)
*Called up to train, not to play
+Called up in case Geoff Cameron transfers
% Called up in case Felix Magath is fired at Fulham
Zelalem has been the subject of high praise from his coach at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger. However, his immigration status is not clear. Regardless, Zelalem should be invited to train with the team.
Increasingly, as players like Geoff Cameron demand a transfer, and others like Danny Williams remain injured, the likelihood of an all European player team seems implausible.
In general, the construction of this roster focuses on two distinct strategies. The inclusion of young MLS players with the young European based players starts building a team for the 2016 Olympic campaign. Others are European based players looking to impress before combined MLS/European rosters happen.
Tim Howard has announced a break from the national until in September 2015. Even if that weren’t the case, I would have excluded Howard from this roster. Howard needs to maintain his health and club form, playing against the Czech Republic accomplishes neither.
Moving position to position:
Why Pick Him? the long established #2 to Tim Howard, Guzan will be expected to take over the keys to the castle at some point, Howard’s hiatus means it’s now. No reason for Klinsmann to not call him.
Why Pick Him? Received a callup for the last euro based squad. He doesn’t get playing time at Southampton, but Cropper is probably the favorite to start for US in the 2016 Olympics. Not enough depth in the Euro pool to not call Cropper.
Why Pick Him? Based in Germany, Yelldell has one one USMNT appearance. After Yelldell, Ethan Horvath of Molde of the Norwegian League is next in line for Euro based goalies. Could Call Johnson or Hamid of MLS, but it is a waste to call players who are unlikely to play.
Not Called: Nick Rimando
Jurgen Klinsmann has suggested an open competition between Guzan and Rimando. Don’t believe it. Rimando is older than Howard. At 39 in 2018, Rimando is unlikely to still be playing, let alone be competing for a spot in Russia. If anything, the introduction of Rimando’s name is just a ploy to keep Klinsmann from having to commit to Guzan as the #1 goalkeeper.
Why Call Him? Jozy is currently not a starter at Sunderland. Calling Altidore allows for Jozy to play 65-75 minutes and leave in better shape for Gus Poyet at Sunderland. Best Striker in the US system.
Why Call Him? Despite his success against Belgium, Green has failed to consistently perform for the national team. At 19, that’s understandable. Green should be a centerpiece of a 2016 Olympic team, and further integration into the national team setup is too many benefits to not call Green.
Why Call Him? A member of the 35 man preliminary Gold Cup roster, Wood is a young player who is too old to qualify for the 2016 Olympics, but still has potential. While I have long suggested Wood should move to MLS, as an Striker getting consistent starts in the German 2nd division, Wood is called up here.
Why Call Him? Will Bruin is interchangeable with a couple of younger strikers on the fringes of the system. As a member of the 2013 Gold Cup Squad, Bruin’s consistent performance in MLS is rewarded with an opportunity to earn playing time against Bobby Wood, who is the quality of player Bruin needs to beat to make a major competition roster.
Why Call Him? Diskerud has shown great super sub potential during the 2014 World Cup cycle. While he can be driven off the ball too easily, and I think he should have moved to Columbus, Diskerud should get the start and demonstrate his abilities playing in an advanced role. Between now and the 2015 Gold Cup is the chance for Diskerud to show he can be a USMNT starter.
Why Call Him? Yedlin may be playing at MLS now but he will soon be playing in England. With three of the back four established for the US, I would call Yedlin in as a midfielder and start him on the right. This game will be about testing players’ and that starts with Yedlin.
Why Call Him? A player who featured on the left side for the US in the World Cup, Bedoya does not start every game for Nantes, but is almost always playing and gets arguably the most consistent playing time among European based midfielders except Spector. He could go the full 90 for the US.
Why Call Him? A week ago, Hyndman seemed a slam dunk inclusion. At 18, Hyndman would be the youngest eligible player to be called up. However, Hyndman has not featured for Fulham in the last three games, but considering the lack of depth at midfield, and the ability to work Hyndman in with other potential Olympic players, I expect Hyndman to get the call. Expect Hyndman to be released if Felix Magath is fired at Fulham.
Why Call Him? Spector has the ability to play in many positions. While he has never gotten a serious look from Klinsmann, and at 28, it’s arguable he never will, Spector will get the chance to demonstrate that versatility. While injuries have slowed down his career a bit, Spector should be one of the more match fit players in the group.
Why Call Him? Brek Shea was once a favorite of Klinsmann. The winger has been on a football odyssey since leaving MLS. Shea is called up because of the skill set he possesses. If he is loaned out, expect him to be released from the roster.
Why Call Him? Is one of the three MLS midfielders I would suggest calling up. Gil was a fixture with the Under 20 squad in Turkey. Gil has been playing well for Real Salt Lake lately. Gil is given the chance to work with Yedlin, Trapp, Packwood, and try to build more familiarity among that group.
Why Call Him? The United States needs defensive midfield options in this pool, and Trapp is my choice. Partly selected because of the 2013 Under 20 World Cup, Trapp fulfills the goals of trying to build an Olympic squad. Chosen over older options like Maurice Edu.
Why Call Him? A player with great speed, Gyau has long been tapped as someone who could be a useful asset to the US national team. However, as he fails to find consistent first team minutes, Gyau’s career has stalled. Currently playing for Dortmund’s reserves, Gyau is largely a camp body.
Why Call Him? Zelalem has been the subject of effusive praise from Arsene Wenger, his coach at Arsenal. While he may or may not yet possess a US passport, the US should seek to integrate him into the system
Why Call Him? Kljestan has struggled to find his role in the US system. While he has played in the Champions League at Anderlecht, his national team form has never matched. Kljestan might be expected to play a holding midfield role for the US.
Why Call Him? Seriously? I’m not an Adu fan. However, at some point the choice becomes Adu or Lletget/Pelosi. Both of whom seem on the Frank Simek, rather than Julian Green career path. Adu has played in International matches before, and is called up as a camp body.
Why Call Him? Johnson is an explosive attacking force as a defensive back. While he may not have 90 minutes of match fitness, it’s a clear call up for him.
Why Call Him? Chandler is actually among the experienced US players in this pool. Should and will get called up.
Why Call Him? Brooks is best young centerback in the European US pool. He still has work to do, and doesn’t get enough playing time, but must be called up.
Why Call Him? Packwood can play for the US in the 2016 Olympics, and a lack of depth at centerback gets Packwood a call.
Why Call Him? Versatile, and strong EPL defender, Cameron would be a lock starter if not for his transfer request. If he moves, expect him to be released.
Why Call Him? Receiving solid playing time for Forest, and a lack of natural defenders earns Lichaj a call up.
Why Call Him? Bolton’s player of the year, and a player capable of playing Defensive Mid, Left Back, or Centerback deserves a call up.
The Formation I would use:
Green Diskerud Yedlin
Johnson Packwood Brooks Chandler
Subs (6 allowed):
HT: Spector for Packwood, Ream to Centerback
’55 Lichaj for Johnson
’60 Shea for Green, Gil for Diskerud
’80 Hyndman for Bedoya
’82 Bruin for Altidore
On the formation: Yedlin is given the opportunity to play at right midfield. A real test of his ability at that position. The players on the field offer the opportunity to make changes. Can easily move to the Christmas tree formation, or move Fabian into the midfield if Yedlin struggles. Packwood and Brooks are paired together as a possible Olympic combination.
Prediction for the game. US concedes two goals early on bad centerback play. Green scores slightly before half. Second half becomes a stalemate. A US loss will not lead to resounding confidence, but with a clearly experimental lineup, no US fan is too concerned about what happens in Prague.