San Jose Quakes coach Frank Yallop was talking with a reporter near the team's locker room after a 2-1 win over Seattle Saturday night when defender Steven Beitashour ambled by.
"Good night, Steve," said Yallop. "See you in Montreal." (The Quakes play the Impact at Stade Saputo Saturday.)
With that not-so-subtle hint the coach let it be known Beitashour, a three-year veteran out of San Diego State, had earned a call-up as one of three uncapped players on the roster U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann announced Sunday for a friendly Wednesday against Mexico (8 p.m. ET, ESPN, Univision) at Azteca Stadium. Sporting Kansas City defender Matt Besler and Quakes striker Alan Gordon are the other uncapped members of a squad that includes 10 MLS players and six based in Mexico.
"Every player in the pool looks forward to an amazing opportunity like this, the chance to take on Mexico in such an historic stadium like Estadio Azteca," said Klinsmann in a statement accompanying the roster announcement. "With the World Cup qualifiers coming up next month, we can start preparing those players mentally and physcially for Jamaica."
There's nothing friendly about a friendly with Mexico, yet there are two vital games coming up next month, and with a few of his go-to guys mired in uncertain club situations, Klinsmann needs to field bodies who figure to get regular playing time between now and the matches in Kingston and Columbus. There's also the matter of reduced travel for North American-based players as compared to those across the Atlantic.
This game is as daunting for Klinsmann as his players. By his own admission, he's in learning mode when it comes to the unique challenges faced by Concacaf venues, and his zealous approach to training and regimen will be critical when the team travels to places like Mexico City with points up for grabs. He's also had a year since his hiring to evaluate MLS, and while his call-ups over the next year and a half will tell a lot more than his decisions during the last 12 months, tracking the players he brings back will reveal clearly what he wants the team to look like at the 2014 World Cup.
The needs of this team are well known. The back line is aging and needs to be revamped, there needs to be a proven and capable backup for keeper Tim Howard, there must be technical and tactical improvement across the board, and a system of play if not necessarily a set formation has to be established. During his tenure, Klinsmann has posted significant victories in Slovenia and Italy, but this game is his severest test.
With a grand total of 21 caps among the six defenders, Klinsmann is banking somewhat on experience against Mexican players more than total caps. He could field a team whose spine includes Liga MX products Herculez Gomez, Jose Torres, Joe Corona and Michael Orozco Fiscal. (Mexico's Liga MX season began last weekend.) In Beitashour and Besler, he has two accomplished MLS defenders who aren't afraid of the ball but more importantly are defensively sound, and have been playing regularly for months.
Among the many European regulars to be excluded are centerbacks Carlos Bocanegra, Clarence Goodson and Oguchi Onyewu, along with right back Steve Cherundolo, thus casting the selections of Beitashour and Besler as those of necessity rather than novelty. A coach will often omit a player who recently changed clubs to ease his adjustment period, but while midfielder Michael Bradley (Chievo Verona to Roma) has not been called, defender Geoff Cameron (Houston Dynamo to Stoke City) is in.
Clint Dempsey's impasse with Fulham has prompted him to train on his own as the club sorts his future (he is out of contract next June) and he's absent. Yet midfielder Maurice Edu gets the call while Glasgow Rangers teammate Bocanegra doesn't as both seek alternatives to the storied club demoted to the fourth division because of financial upheaval.
Klinsmann has recalled DaMarcus Beasley, who is starting his second season in Mexico with Puebla, and another left-sided midfielder, Brek Shea, whose indifferent play for the national team and FC Dallas this year has cast a few clouds on a once-bright future. Another lefty, Edgar Castillo of (Club Tijuana), rounds out the Liga MX half-dozen. They are all different in many respects, but they all have pace and can run at people. How they can cope with the heat and smog and altitude of Azteca remains to be seen yet with as many as seven substitutes permitted, they may not be asked to go 90 minutes.
Named as an alternate was D.C. United attacker Chris Pontius, who could be called into a two-day training camp in Mexico City if a minor injury suffered by Rapid Vienna forward Terence Boyd knocks him out of contention. Jozy Altidore is also excluded, despite scoring two goals for AZ Alkmaar in a 2-2 tie with Ajax Sunday in its Eredivisie opener, which leaves Landon Donovan, Chris Wondolowski, Gomez and Gordon as the options up top.
(Check out the entire U.S. roster for the Mexico showdown HERE.)