Pretty soon, Jurgen Klinsmann will name his team for the September friendlies. A Sept. 2 game v. Costa Rica on American soil will be followed by a September 6 game against Belgium in Belgium.
I believe that Klinsmann’s approach to talent identification and national squad development will be vastly different from, and superior to, that of previous coach Bob Bradley. It’s very early on, but Klinsmann has already made clear that he expects everyone, even the European-based players, in training camp for the run-up to international fixtures.
"Certainly our goal is to have them (the European-based players) always with us. No exceptions," Klinsmann stated in the post-match interview from the US-Mexico game last month. “Because if they are not flying to the US [but] if there are other European players flying to South America and play for those countries, there is no difference. I made that clear to the players that we expect them in camp every time because they have to defend or fight for their spot."
Bradley tended to treat his European players, and indeed all of his veterans, a little more tenderly. Klinsmann obviously will not, and it also does not appear that anyone has a lock on a starting position. So by eliminating the feeling of entitlement, Klinsmann just made training camp a lot more competitive, which might mitigate the irritating tendency of the US squad to start slowly and give up an early goal. If the coach requires everyone to be ready to go at the first whistle in practice, then readiness at game time should improve too.
Between Klinsmann’s public statements and his coaching decisions in the Mexico game, there is a glimpse of a three-pronged strategy in team development. Obviously, he is going to take the best that MLS has to offer and witness the contributions of Brek Shea and Robbie Rogers against Mexico. He has clearly indicated that he wants to take advantage of Mexican- and Central American-influenced players in order to bring creativity into a side that lacks it. Juan Agudelo and Jose Torres are great examples.
And finally, I think he is planning to plumb the depths of the German leagues, which would only be natural given his experience there. Timmy Chandler is going to get ample opportunity to prove himself.
Klinsmann will cast his net wide, since it is very early in the process and he wants a look at absolutely anyone with the ability to contribute, even if they are longer-term projects. And as he displayed in the Mexico game, he is willing to sacrifice experience in order to put younger players with speed and more creativity on the field.
So with that in mind, here are my predictions for the roster for the upcoming friendlies.
Slam Dunks: Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey, Steve Cherundolo. Self-explanatory, except for the exclusion of Michael Bradley (see below).
Forwards: Robbie Rogers, Juan Agudelo and Brek Shea
These three all came on as substitutes in the Mexico game and were the difference between the draw and a loss. Rogers has been criticized for disappearing at times, but he showed speed and aggressiveness against the Mexicans. Agudelo is only 18 and still slight of frame, but has excellent attacking skills and vision past his years. The most fascinating of the three is the towering blonde, 6’3” Brek Shea. Shea went pro straight out of high school and has played just about every position in his career, save goalie. Not even Claudio Reyna can claim such versatility. Does Klinsmann see something of himself in the speedy big man? As a coaching friend of mine would say, why not turn him into a monster?
Midfielders: Josh Torres and Michael Bradley
Both played well enough against Mexico to warrant a recall. But Klinsmann experimented with Bradley in a creative role and it didn’t really work. Bradley does not possess the vision or the passing skills to be an attacking midfielder. He is a holder and a destructive midfielder, which raises this question: are Bradley, Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu essentially the same player? Additionally, Bradley is not getting any playing time at his club team in Germany, Borussia Mönchengladbach, and is (again) the subject of trade speculation. Klinsmann might decide to experiment here by pairing Edu with a different midfielder, and giving Bradley some time off.
Defenders: Timmy Chandler, Eric Lichaj, Clarence Goodson, Tim Ream and Edgar Castillo: Klinsmann has stated that his first priority with the team is a better, more organized and aggressive back line. No doubt part of his concern is the age of his two defensive stalwarts, Bocanegra and Cherundolo.
So here is a passel of backs that could see some action. Fiscal has been left out because he looked lost against Mexico and needs more seasoning before a return. Castillo acquitted himself better and should get another look. All the others have been capped and displayed potential at one point or another. Goodson is coming off injury but should be ready.
Maybes: Forwards Jozy Altidore and Edson Buddle: Is this a “one or the other” proposition? If Klinsmann continues in a 4-2-3-1 formation, these are the only two candidates so far who can play a true target forward. Unfortunately, neither has done much to distinguish himself, and this is maybe the most wide-open competition on the team. Klinsmann may decide on a different formation and leave both these guys home.
Midfielders: Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman: Since Klinsmann got a good look at both Jones and Beckerman against Mexico, Edu probably gets the nod this time. I think it unlikely that the roster will feature Bradley and Jones and Edu and Beckerman; maybe three of the four at most, and more likely two. And Jones certainly didn’t help his case in the Mexico game, so there is an opportunity for the others to step ahead in line in defensive midfield.
Freddy Adu and Alejandro Bedoya: See Maybe Forwards above. This is another “one or the other” proposition. Both are young, creative midfielders who lack seasoning but bring flair and ball control. Bedoya was just traded from Swedish team Orebro to Rangers in Scotland this week. Like the Altidore/Buddle competition, this could truly be a case of Klinsmann declaring “whoever is showing me the most in training will get a chance in the next game”.
Forward/Midfield: DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Diskerud: Beasley is well known to US soccer fans and is the natural left winger that Klinsmann seems to be looking for. I never understood why he fell out of favor with Bob Bradley, and as he is only 29, he could help in the next World Cup cycle. He has bounced around quite a bit in his club career and is currently with Puebla in Mexico. Diskerud is playing in Scandinavia and is a versatile midfielder with great potential and is only 20 years old.
Bobby Convey, Chad Marshall and Josh Gatt: Convey and Marshall are MLS defenders who have already been capped, and Gatt is a 19-year-old converted winger currently being used at right back for a Norwegian club. Of the three, Gatt probably has the most potential, and the US needs at outside back are obvious. But it is not clear that outside back is the best use of Gatt.
So there are 26 names and no backup goalies; probably Hahnemann is beginning to age out, and maybe Bill Hamid might get a look, but no one looks to supplant Howard anytime soon. It’s exciting to think about some of these younger, unproven players, and surely, there are more in the wings waiting for a chance.
They will get one from Klinsmann. That is one of the big reasons he replaced Bradley.
(Author's Note: Thanks to Bleacher Report reader, ex-player, ex-coach, soccer mega-fan and good friend Krister Eriksson for his insight into this article).