HOUSTON, TX—After three weeks of training in the Southern California sun, United States Men's National Team coach Jurgen Klinsmann has condensed his message to his 23-player roster with three instructive words:
Make your case.
The U.S. will host Canada at the Houston Dynamo's BBVA Compass Stadium on Tuesday evening, as the United States Soccer Federation begins its centennial celebration with an international friendly. The first thing most will notice about this American roster is that, after years of becoming more cosmopolitan, this one features relatively little European flavor.
Of the 23 players called into the team's annual January camp ahead of Tuesday's match, only three—Josh Gatt of Molde (Norway), Mix Diskerud of Rosenborg (Norway) and Alfredo Morales of Hertha Berlin (Germany)—play for European clubs. Regular contributors like Tottenham Hotspur's Clint Dempsey and AS Roma's Michael Bradley, meanwhile, remained in Europe with their clubs.
Having billed the gathering in Carson, Calif., as a "camp of opportunity," Klinsmann said he has used the past three-and-a-half weeks to evaluate the 23 players, most of whom have not featured regularly in Klinsmann's World Cup qualifying squads.
Forward Eddie Johnson, who recently returned to the national team after more than a year away, serves as the squad's most-capped player with 44 senior appearances. Midfielders Benny Feilhaber (31 caps) and Kyle Beckerman (23) provide more experience, but the squad also features seven uncapped players, along with rising newcomers like Los Angeles Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez—who was man of the match for the Los Angeles Galaxy in last month's MLS Cup final—and Gatt, a speedy outside midfielder.
That makes Tuesday's match a chance for newcomers to "build your own case," according to Klinsmann. As preparations shifted to Texas ahead of Tuesday's match, Klinsmann said that above all he has instructed players to challenge for a regular spot in the team.
“Who wants to steal a spot from whoever’s in front of you? Because that’s what it’s all about," Klinsmann said Monday at a press conference at Houston's St. Regis Hotel. "You want to kick somebody out. That’s what you’re here for.”
No. 1 goalkeeper Tim Howard remained with Everton of the English Premier League, leaving Bill Hamid, Sean Johnson and Tally Hall—a total of two caps among them—to compete for playing time on Tuesday. Defenders Morales, Tony Beltran, Matt Besler, Connor Lade and Justin Morrow are all uncapped.
Klinsmann said the camp has given the new players a feel for becoming internationals, as well as a chance to build chemistry. He said players based in Europe, Major League Soccer, Mexico and other places will be considered as the U.S. resumes World Cup qualification in 2013.
In addition to qualifiers, the Americans will play in the Gold Cup in July—meaning more opportunities could arrive, according to Klinsmann.
“We understand we have to build two rosters," he said. "It’s just the nature of the beast. It’s just the way it is.”
Beckerman, a 30-year-old midfield veteran of the U.S. team that finished second in the 2009 Gold Cup, said the three-week training camp challenged players both physically and technically.
After more than three weeks together, Beckerman said the Americans are "excited" to play against someone other than their teammates. For the squad's 19 MLS players, the training camp also served as a chance to work on ball skills and fitness during the league's offseason.
“It’s been really great in how we’ve been building up, and now I think we’re excited to play somebody else besides each other,” he said.
The U.S. drew 0-0 with Canada in a friendly last summer in Toronto, a game Klinsmann said he "wasn't pleased at all with." Canada lost 4-0 to Denmark in a friendly last week, but Klinsmann said the result isn't indicative of the team's strength.
“We had our issues with our own game in Toronto last summer, which I wasn’t pleased at all with," Klinsmann said. "So I would like to finish out those three and a half weeks now with a good note.”
And, of course, he'd like to see a few players make their case.
“He’s constantly telling us to show yourself and get out there and make a case," said Beckerman, responding to a question about the team's lack of intensity in a recent training session. "I think maybe sometimes being together so long you make it a bit too friendly for each other…and he let us know.
"And as soon as he did, in practice, the intensity stepped up right away, and we didn’t finish practice until he was pleased.”