USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann today named his 23-man roster for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico.
In addition to the usual considerations about player form, positional needs and the opponent, Klinsmann had to consider the large number of American players carrying yellow cards into the seventh and eighth rounds of the Hex.
Ten Americans currently carry a yellow card from a previous World Cup qualifier and one more will disqualify that player for the next game. With back-to-back games on the schedule—Costa Rica on Friday, Mexico on Tuesday—some have speculated that Klinsmann should sit his starting players against Costa Rica so they are not disqualified for the Mexican grudge match.
Klinsmann, however, disagrees:
For us, it’s definitely one game each. The next game is the most important one, which is the Costa Rica game. And then only after that game do we adjust and get ready for Mexico…I don’t want anyone spending any time or energy thinking about Mexico. I want everybody on our team and staff to put all of their energy into the Costa Rica game.
Klinsmann may not adjust his starting XI for the yellow card situation, but it appears some of his roster selections were intended to provide a replacement should one of his starters pick up a yellow at Costa Rica.
Klinsmann selected a nice mix of veteran and young players for the qualifiers. The increasing depth at the kiddy end of the player pool allows Klinsmann to continue focusing on player development under the tutelage of proven veterans.
The job of a national team coaching staff is to look for the next generation of players. What brings the next wave? And in looking at players such as a Mix Diskerud, Joe Corona, John Brooks, Aron Johannsson and even a Alejandro Bedoya, who was already in the team but pushed it to a new level over the last couple of months, if you look at those players, you see a growth coming through.
Joe Corona did not make this roster, though Klinsmann says in the same interview not to read too much into that. Reading between the lines it looks like the coach had strict positional needs because of the yellow cards and that meant fewer roster spots for players like Corona who play one of the deepest positions in the entire player pool.
Another issue to keep in mind is Klinsmann’s interest in permanently cap-tying Anthony Brooks to the USMNT by getting him into a qualifier.
One problem with the standard way in which rosters are released is the antiquated defender-midfielder-forward player categories. I stuck with it for expediency sake, but clearly there are players on this roster who play more than one of these three positions. More importantly, in the modern game, there are usually more than three player lines to a team’s tactical formation, particularly in the Nats’ base 4-2-3-1.
With that in mind, below is the 23-man roster with a brief discussion of why each player was chosen for this particular roster.
Howard and Guzan are no-brainers. I thought Klinsmann might leave Rimando in Salt Lake City to help his team in the MLS playoff race, but with Tim Howard on a yellow, Klinsmann will need quality at the third keeper spot and Rimando has consistently been third on the depth chart.
Defenders (8): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla/Mexico), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City/MLS), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin/Germany), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/England), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana/Mexico), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC/MLS), Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy/MLS), Michael Orozco (Puebla/Mexico)
Brad Evans has been the starting right back for the last few qualifiers and he played well enough to get the call again. Evans is carrying yellow, so Klinsmann added Orozco for positional depth.
Besler and Gonzalez were the preferred starting pair at center back for most of the Hex and I doubt they will be broken up now. Besler is on yellow, so Klinsmann has a good second reason to bring in Brooks besides the need to cap-tie him.
DaMarcus Beasley, like Evans, has been the midfielder-turned-fullback on the left side for the U.S. He too is on yellow, so Klinsmann covers him with Edgar Castillo, who many fans speculated was done.
Multi-tool player Geoff Cameron is also on yellow alert. Since he can play all four of the back-line positions, plus holding midfielder, this may be the guy Klinsmann sits against Costa Rica so he is sure to have him for Mexico.
Midfielders (7): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake/MLS), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes/France), Michael Bradley (AS Roma/Italy), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg/Norway), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim/Germany), Jermaine Jones (Schalke/Germany), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City/MLS)
Even if you disagree, you should expect Bradley and Jones to start as the two holding midfielders in the Nats base 4-2-3-1 system. Both players are on yellow, so Beckerman was brought in to replace one of them against Mexico if necessary. Diskerud showed a new willingness to mix it up physically during the Gold Cup, and he, along with Cameron, provide adequate depth for the 2-line.
F. Johnson, another yellow Nat who can also play fullback, has shown a deft passing touch and big motor when Klinsmann deployed him on the wing. Bedoya demonstrated similar qualities playing in the Gold Cup and recently started at right back for Nantes in their Ligue 1 opener.
Graham Zusi is the only head-scratcher for me on this roster. He recently missed four games with an injury and will only have three games in his legs when he boards the plane for Costa Rica. Zusi certainly has the quality to play with this bunch, but Corona or Jose Torres are in better form at the moment.
Forwards (5): Jozy Altidore (Sunderland/England), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC/MLS), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy/MLS), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar/Netherlands), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC/MLS)
Jozy Altidore is clearly a “forward” and is the American’s target man and current goal-scoring ace. Since the 4-2-3-1 typically relies on a target forward to make the defense-to-offense transition work, and Altidore is also on yellow, Klinsmann’s choice of Johannsson makes a lot of sense. E. Johnson has never been a good target man and Johannsson plays the same position as Altidore for AZ Alkmaar.
Both E. Johnson and Johannsson can also play the wing, as can Donovan, Dempsey, F. Johnson, Zusi and Bedoya.
Expect Klinsmann’s team captain, Dempsey, to line up in the No. 10 spot of the 4-2-3-1. He’ll push up higher if the U.S. needs more room in the midfield or he can drop back to receive the ball if the U.S. is facing high pressure. Since he too is holding a yellow card, we might see Diskerud or Donovan there should Dempsey pick up a second yellow on Friday.
Donovan is back—as we all knew he would be—and he will start, as he should. When Donovan played for Everton, he demonstrated a knack for playing the inverted winger on the left side. Expect to see him there again.
E. Johnson may find himself the odd-man out with Donovan’s return and Johannsson's current goal-scoring form. He does provide depth at wing and can play the target man in a pinch, or as a second forward if Klinsmann adjusts his formation as he did against Bosnia.
Which player should have been on this roster?
Here is my starting XI for Costa Rica. What’s yours (no peeking at Mexico)?
CBs: Besler, Gonzalez
HMs: Bradley, Jones
LW: F. Johnson
(Update: Klinsmann said in a conference call that Fabian Johnson is his starting left wing, presumably to cover for Beasley and totally based on his recent excellent play. Expect he and Donovan, on the right, to interchange and invert during the game.)