By Ridge Mahoney
Omissions from a national team roster always crank up the buzz, and those excluded by Jurgen Klinsmann Monday from the Hexagonal opener in Honduras certainly did their share.
Fans and journalists, like coaches, have their favorites, and some disagreement can certainly be traced to subjective, in some cases addled, perspectives. Yet so much of the angst is misplaced. The coach isn’t always right, and the proof of his acumen can’t come before Wednesday afternoon, but there’s plenty of rationale to be rehashed.
Let’s run down a few of the rejected and try to calm those jangled nerves:
NO KYLE BECKERMAN? But Klinsmann loves him, and he’s the loyal, energetic worker bee every team needs, especially in a hostile road environment, can screen the back line, is a true warrior, and, well, Klinsmann loves him.
Yes, love is love, but business is business, and qualifying for the World Cup is strictly business. Plus, the coach has picked at least four players – Danny Williams, Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu and Sasha Kljestan – who can do that job and are in-season, even though Jones is coming off a suspension. Michael Bradley could slot into that spot, too, if necessary. (And Kljestan plays a mostly primarily holding/linking role for Anderlecht.)
WHERE’S BENNY FEILHABER? He was a real catalyst more than 2 ½ years ago at the World Cup, and played a great second half –- OK, 30 minutes – against a ponderous Canadian team last week before fading near the end but he’s got skills and since he was born in Brazil and played in Europe he has to be out there in a big game, right?
Uh, no, and once again Klinsmann in his Monday conference call reminded the world that Feilhaber doesn’t exert his influence often enough and strongly enough to be trusted in a road qualifier. “We want him to become more of a ‘pusher’ in terms of being more involved in the game,” said Klinsmann. “And on a consistent basis, meaning every couple minutes, every two or three minutes. Here and there it seems like he is fading out and then coming back in. “He’s a little inconsistent, but he’s working on that. That has to do obviously with the technical approach, but also with the physicality of the game, the rhythm and the pace of the game.”
OK, but why not bring a player like Feilhaber as possible sub even if he’s not a 90-minute player? Klinsmann’s philosophy, in matters both of fitness and level of performance, is that everyone has to be prepared to start. “But it is very important to know that a player who flies in and flies into Honduras, is ready to go,” said Klinsmann. “We can’t bring in players that we have question marks with injuries. That doesn’t work in such a short period of time.” The national team coach specifically referenced “question marks with injuries,” but preaches the same thing about question marks, period. There are still too many of them with Feilhaber, and maybe, just maybe, there’s a motivational message being sent that another creative midfielder, Brad Davis – also an MLS player, by the way -- is on the plane to Honduras, and he’s not.
Klinsmann also likes what he’s seen of Jose Torres, who after fading from the scene at Pachuca has rebounded smartly with UANL Tigres. “He played there for eight years or something like that,” said the coach. “In the new environment, prove yourself, become a starter, and he’s started off the season really well. So he’s a player who has so much more to reach and we help him in that process.”
BAD NEWS FOR GOODSON and GOOCH? Clarence Goodson and Oguchi Onyewu are tall, strong defenders with international experience, both with European club play and against Concacaf teams. How can they both be left out with Carlos Bocanegra only recently back in action after missing more than a month with a torn hamstring?
From their exclusion we can infer that a) Klinsmann is satisfied that Bocanegra can start and last the full 90 if necessary; b) the coach is very impressed with Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler; and c) there’s enough experience on the back line, even without Goodson and Gooch, to handle the hostility in San Pedro Sula.
The official explanation went thusly: “Clarence is in preseason right now in Denmark [at Broendby] and Gooch is not playing at all in Malaga. There are always reasons for why we choose certain players and why we do certain things. We believe that Matt Besler has the capabilities to step it up to the international level. So does Omar. So that gives more options in a very busy year, 2013.”
Next month, the USA plays its first double-dip of the Hexagonal, hosting Costa Rica and playing in Mexico four days apart. With a longer lead time and two games instead of one to plan for and worry about, the roster decisions will be quite different. The MLS players and those in Scandinavia will be into their seasons as well.
So don’t read too much into the first week in February. But don’t discount it, either.
Go HERE for the USA's roster for its World Cup qualifier against Honduras (Wednesday, 4 pm ET, BeIN Sport & BeIN en Espanol).