[USA CONFIDENTIAL] Just how much a challenge Jurgen Klinsmann has as U.S. national team coach is reflected in the
paucity of options he had in selecting his team for the two upcoming friendly games, beginning with Saturday's match against Honduras. There are only a few players whose absence from the Miami camp
raised some eyebrows, and none of them could be labeled a sure thing. For thoughts of the national team heading into its fourth and fifth games under Klinsmann ...
NOT A LOT OF CHOICES. Injuries to the likes of Landon Donovan, Jose Torres, Stuart Holden and Fabian Johnson certainly thinned out of the options Klinsmann has available. There are only a few players whose absence from the Miami camp raised some eyebrows, and none of them could be labeled a sure thing.
Omar Gonzalez? The omission of the Los Angeles Galaxy defender is perhaps the biggest surprise. After all, the USA is very thin in the middle of the backline, and Gonzalez is the best young defender in MLS. But he is not the complete package. The excellent "24 under-24 series" on mlssoccer.com ranked Gonzalez eighth among MLS prospects and the best young defender in the league but some technical directors and coaches have their doubts, particularly about his lack of pace. If there is any time to bring Gonzalez into the national team, this month is not it. The Galaxy has counted on Gonzalez a lot, but he and his teammates looked very tired in Tuesday's 2-0 loss at New York. Gonzalez's best chance to step into the national team lineup in the backline may come when Carlos Bocanegra steps aside. But that might not be for a year or two.
Brad Davis? The Houston Dynamo midfielder has 14 assists this season, the most in his career and second only behind David Beckham in MLS this season. But he's never gotten more than the proverbial cup of tea with the national team (four caps) and approaching 30 may be destined to becoming a left-footed version of Steve Ralston, a consummate MLS player who never fit into the national team plans.
START TO FINISH. For the time being, Klinsmann is clearly more concerned how his team plays minutes 1-60 than how it finishes a game in minutes 61-90. (Ironic, of course, since the best it has played in three games was the last half hour against Mexico.) He made only four subs against Mexico, two against Costa Rica and three against Belgium.
That works against someone like Hercules Gomez, who continues to amaze in Mexico with three of his four goals for Estudiantes Tecos off the bench. Klinsmann is unlikely to call on Gomez in the next few months, but if Gomez continues to score in Mexico, he could be called up for the World Cup 2014 qualifiers beginning next summer as an option off the bench late in games.
DANKE SCHOEN. Given the lack of depth, you must wonder where the USA would be if young German-Americans Timmy Chandler, Danny Williams and Johnson had not decided to play for the USA.
It also says something about the U.S. youth system that the majority of players coming into the national team in the last year have few ties, if any, to the United States.
CURRENT FORM COUNTS. After he struggled at left back in Klinsmann's first two games in charge, any chances Edgar Castillo had of remaining in the national team picture in the short term were shot when he was recently dropped from the starting lineup at Club America. He hasn't even been on the bench. (Update: Castillo has been nursing a slight hamstring pull.)
While current form hasn't always counted when players were picked for national team duty in recent years, it will count under Klinsmann.
LONDON CALLING? Klinsmann hasn't talked a lot about the 2012 Olympics, but it will be perhaps the most important test of the national team program in his first year in charge. He played on West Germany's Olympic team that finished third in Seoul in 1988, and he considers the success of that team that also included such players as Thomas Haessler, Karl-Heinz Riedle and Frank Mill an important factor in the success West Germany had two years later in winning the World Cup title in Italy.
Klinsmann will have some tough choices to make. Who will coach the under-23 team? (It would be difficult if not impossible for him to take the team.) Will he bring back such players as Jozy Altidore and Freddy Adu, who played in 2008? Will he go really young and look at players like Real Salt Lake's Luis Gil? Will he risk engendering the wrath of Bundesliga clubs and take players like Chandler and Williams? Who will he take as overage players? Gonzalez is too old to qualify as an under-23 player but he could be one of the three jokers. That all assumes, of course, that the USA qualifies. (It will host the Concacaf under-23 qualifying tournament in March 2012.)