By Paul Kennedy
Of the 30 players called into the U.S. national team's World Cup training camp at Stanford University, none had gone longer without a call-up than Timmy Chandler.
His one and only appearance in the Hexagonal was the first game against Honduras in February 2013. No American had a particularly good game in the afternoon heat of San Pedro Sula, but Chandler wilted in the 2-1 loss, earning a "3" rating for the afternoon.
“I think this was the most unbelievable game in my life,” Chandler said before practice on Sunday afternoon. “The heat was unbelievable.”
Chandler's first Hexagonal match -- and first official match in a U.S. career that dates back to Bob Bradley's tenure as national team coach -- was also his last. A hamstring injury kept him out of the March 2013 qualifiers, a knee injury sidelined him for the three June 2013 matches and he faded from the picture as Brad Evans won the starting job at right back.
The writing appeared to be on the wall for Chandler when he wasn't even called in for the friendly at Bosnia-Herzegovina in August 2013. The match was a chance for Coach Jurgen Klinsmann to check in with his European-based players for the first match since the Gold Cup, where he went with a team dominated by MLS and Mexico-based players, and he didn't even give Chandler a call.
The snub followed a particularly poor game for Chandler in a German Cup match against second division Sandhausen. It resulted in Chandler being benched by Nuremberg. “I have been a starter for two-and-a-half years now,” Chandler told the German tabloid Bild. “To sit on the bench is certainly the low point of my career so far.”
But then something happened. Chandler got back into the first team and he started playing well for Nuremberg even as it found itself in a relegation battle it would eventually lose. He was named to the kicker Team of the Week in the last game of the winter break -- his first selection in more than two and a half years -- and he started the second half of the season with a goal against Hoffenheim and another selection on the kicker weekly XI. More important, his play earned public praise from Klinsmann for the first time in a long time.
But then another injury struck. Early in the Fraenkisch-Bairisches Derby against champion Bayern Munich, Nuremberg's biggest rival, Chandler hurt his knee. "It was sad," Chandler admitted. The diagnosis was 8-10 weeks on the sidelines, and just 13 weeks in the season remained. “I thought my chance had gone,” he said.
It had now been more than a year between call-ups for Chandler, but what wasn't known about was that Klinsmann had not given up on him. Indeed, he had been in constant contact with Chandler, who says said his words of encouragement after the knee injury spurred him to come back even faster.
“He knew that he has to do a lot more work to come back into our picture because of the situation that happened in Honduras and how I looked at the team developing," Klinsmann said after last week's roster announcement, "and the team did extremely well last summer obviously with World Cup Qualifying and the Gold Cup. He got the message and worked harder and played on a very high level throughout the season until the knee surgery came. I encouraged him to keep going and he is fully fit again. I had him scouted many times in training and I think he is a player that can make a difference if he is on his highest level."
Chandler returned for the last two games of the Bundesliga season and then waited to see if he'd been called into the Stanford camp. "I was surprised, for sure," he said of the call-up. He is only 24, but he already has four full seasons under his belt with Nuremberg That experience can be an asset for the USA. "The Bundesliga is one of the best leagues in the world," he said, "and I have played something like 100 games [95 league games]."
Chandler faces lots of competition at right back -- five other players in camp have played there since his last appearance with the USA -- but he says he's simply happy to be back with the team. "We have good training sessions," he said. "I like to be in the group."
Born in Frankfurt to a German mother and American father, Chandler is one of six German-Americans on the 30-player short list. He was the second of the six to be called up, first under Bob Bradley in March 2011, so he doesn't try to put too much emphasis the German influence in the team. “We understand everything -- English, German, Mexican, Chinese, we don’t care," he joked. "Everything is nice in the group."
Lots of Germans have talked with Chandler about the match against Germany June 26 in Recife. “For sure, they make jokes," he said. "Some would say, ‘Don’t win against them.’ Some would say, ‘Kick their ass.’ When we play Germany, it will be a very nice game."