By Mike Woitalla
Jurgen Klinsmann's early start to World Cup training camp, which launched at Stanford University on Wednesday, isn't just about preparing for Ghana, Portugal and Germany. It's also a tryout for 30 players aiming to earn a spot on the 23-man roster by June 2.
“There are 30 guys here who all have a very good chance of being on this team,” says midfielder Graham Zusi, who’s considered a lock for Brazil. “The competition is probably unlike it’s ever been.”
Matt Besler, a central defense starter for more than a year, is also considered sure bet for the final 23.
“There’s not a lot of tension,” Besler says. “We’re all teammates at the end of the day. We’re working for one goal as a team. ... It’s about finding the right balance between being competitive with each other, pushing each other, but also coming together as a team and trying to get better as a group.”
Zusi and Besler are eying their first World Cup. Defensive midfielder Maurice Edu played in three of the USA’s four games at the 2010 World Cup, where he famously scored in the 85th minute of a 2-2 tie with Slovenia but had the goal mysteriously called back by Mali referee Koman Coulibaly, who never explained why.
“I still don’t know what the call was,” says Edu. “After it happened, I watched the replay a few times, but I’ve put it behind me.”
Despite his experience, which includes 46 U.S. caps, Edu must battle for a ticket to Brazil. His infrequent playing time for Stoke City and an injury suffered on loan at Bursaspor resulted in Klinsmann limiting him to just three appearances in 2013. He moved back to MLS, with the Philadelphia Union, to improve his chances of getting back in the national team fold. But competition is stiff. If Klinsmann had not brought German products into the squad, Edu would be a shoo-in.
“That has never crossed my mind at all,” says Southern California-raised Edu says. “These guys are all very much a part of the team. … This team makes people feel as welcome as possible very quickly. It’s a good brotherhood among this group. The attitude is to make guys who come in from different parts of the world to feel part of the team quickly because we want this team to be as good as possible.”
While half the 32 World Cup teams announced final or nearly final rosters, Edu believes having a prolonged tryout will benefit the USA.
“It has to be intense,” he says. “This is crunch time. There are 30 players and only 23 spots for Brazil. Everyone is competing. You have to expect the level to be high. You have to expect hard tackles. At the end of the day it will just make the team stronger. Our job is to make Klinsmann’s job as difficult as possible in selecting the team but in doing that the process will bring out the best in the team.”
Proving himself at a tryout is of course nothing new for a player like Edu, who remembers his experience as a teenager when he aimed to become part of the youth national team program through the Olympic Development Program (ODP).
“It wasn’t that nerve-wracking because I was among a bunch of my friends and we all went through the process the same time, pushing and motivating each other to make the team,” Edu says. “It’s a similar situation here. I’m among friends I know well and trust and who have confidence in me. So for me it’s about going out there and showing what I can do.”