Hexagonal opener starts off severest test for Klinsmann

By Ridge Mahoney

In the aftermath of a laborious 0-0 tie with Canada Tuesday night, comfort can be found in the fact that a European-heavy team will probably open the Hexagonal Wednesday against Honduras in San Pedro Sula.

That’s a nice thought, but matters won’t be quite that simple, as the German Bundesliga contingent is far from ready.

Injuries could sideline outside backs Steve Cherundolo and Fabian Johnson, and out-of-action regulars Jermaine Jones (suspended from Bundesliga play) and Danny Williams (benched) may not be fit enough to go.

Those in England -- Geoff Cameron, Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard -- have been playing in cold rain and snow flurries, and won’t easily adapt to temperatures expected to be in the low 80s. They can be as game-sharp as all get-out, but the much warmer weather will severely test their stamina. The Honduran federation also scheduled the game for late afternoon, not at night, when a harsh sun could possibly exacerbate the discomfort.

Coach Jurgen Klinsmann can, of course, supplement the squad for Honduras with his pick of the players who faced Canada, but whether from lack of game action or other reasons, few looked ready to tangle in a knock-down, drag-out battle typical of Concacaf qualifiers.

Yes, it’s only the first 10 matches, but this is shaping up – aside from Mexico, which opens at home against Jamaica that same night – as a fiercely competitive Hexagonal.

The top three of six advance automatically to the 2014 World Cup, and the fourth-place team gets a cushy playoff series with the Oceania winner, so the odds of the Americans reaching Brazil are quite good.

Yet scraping through as the fourth-place finisher isn’t what U.S. Soccer had in mind when it hired Klinsmann, and while qualification is always the bottom line, federation officials – as well as fans and media – will expect progress in the Klinsmann tenets of skillful, creative play.

One of his proclamations upon being hired was to broaden the national team’s representation of players based in Mexico, and since those players started their seasons in early January in conditions somewhat similar to those in Honduras, it would seem obvious for him to dip into Liga MX.

While there’s only a handful of players with national team experience south of the border, most of them are playing regularly for successful teams.

Forward Herculez Gomez (Santos) played the last U.S. seven games of 2012; he scored in Santos’ Clausura opener with a header against San Luis and has appeared in all four league games. Edgar Castillo and Joe Corona are regular starters for defending league champion Club Tijuana, and midfielder Jose Torres – cut loose by Pachuca in December after playing more than 150 games for the club since his debut in 2006 – has started both games for Tigres since returning from injury.

Defender Michael Orozco Fiscal, scorer in the historic 1-0 defeat of Mexico at Azteca Stadium last August, has gone on loan from San Luis to Puebla and has appeared in three league matches. A Puebla teammate, DaMarcus Beasley, has been mostly ignored by Klinsmann – he played just 45 minutes in 2012 – and he's getting regular time (three starts, one sub appearance) for his club.

Situations like this are those in which Klinsmann must earn his keep: His MLS players are out of season, his Euro options are limited by climate change, and of the Mexican-based players only Gomez (three U.S. goals last year in 11 appearances) has proven to be consistently reliable at the international level.

The uncertainty at outside back would suggest Castillo, though his defensive work is suspect. An experienced, skillful midfielder like Torres is an asset, but he’s not quite found a comfort level – or the right position – for the USA.

If the Americans get a point out of Honduras, or perhaps steal a victory –as they did in the penultimate game of the last Hexagonal to clinch a spot at the 2010 World Cup – the Canada game will be regarded as a throwaway.

Still, there were questions about why Klinsmann didn’t start a creative central midfielder -- Benny Feilhaber, Mix Diskerud and Alejandro Bedoya had all been in camp -- against an opponent expected to bunker in after being embarrassed 4-0 by Denmark.

Wednesday's Honduras game is just the first of many important games, but the USA’s direction will be just as intriguing as the result.

8 comments about "Hexagonal opener starts off severest test for Klinsmann".
  1. John Soares, February 1, 2013 at 7:06 p.m.

    To many this was/is the savior. Many commentators/critics felt MR K should have been hired instead of Bradley, at any price. For better or worse. So far nothing to write home about..... so far it didn't matter. It's time to prove yourself MR K! NOW IT MATTERS!

  2. Dennis Setera, February 1, 2013 at 8:35 p.m.

    What are you talking about RM? Discomfort??? Temperatures in the 80s. BFD!!! These guys are professionals not youth players. Azteca is the real test and they passed. Nice journalism, but it's really BS! And Mr. K doesn't have anything to prove John, he already has. And NOW IT MATTERS!....WOW!!! Doesn't it always? Not, just NOW.
    Dennis Setera

  3. Paul Bryant, February 1, 2013 at 9:06 p.m.

    This article is a load of crap. I couldn't agree with Dennis more strongly. Since when has going from playing in cold, damp weather to warm weather been bad thing? The only problem I see is in team cohesiveness. They only have a couple days to prepare together, but then again, so does Honduras.

  4. Jason Hintz llopis, February 1, 2013 at 10:27 p.m.

    @John - agree 100% and I think this is an on-target article. And, Paul, yes team cohesiveness is key and this is where I'm suspicious JK is failing. Hard to tell because we are not inside the locker room, but JK's comments to the press and the lack of praising comments from players so far add up to question marks for me and for the US in the Hex.

  5. Mark Grody, February 2, 2013 at 12:36 a.m.

    @Jason - i agree with your sense that they are not all happy campers. as a MNT fan, i'm very uneasy heading into the Honduras game.

  6. David Mont, February 2, 2013 at 7:53 a.m.

    What has Mr. K has proven so far as a coach? Absolutely nothing.

  7. P Van, February 2, 2013 at 2:20 p.m.

    The Klinsmann era has not been that impressive--he's told us, now his team and he need to show us. I don't think this article is so bad. The point about playing the Mexican-based players is a point worth making. Certainly among them are the types of players to play the attack-minded system K spoke of when hired. Though their seasons are beginning, they are playing in a tougher league than MLS. I'd bring as many of them along as any of the MLSers from the other night. It's really hard to predict whom to play other than Dempsey, Gomez, Altidore, Bradley and Cameron. They are some of the few who seem to be enjoying a good run of form in Europe. The players playing in Mexico--and I include all of the ones listed in the article, including Castillo, would warrant inclusion...Part of the problem perhaps at this point is that so much is up in the air...the Diskelrud, Klesjtans , German boys haven't shown so much lately...or am I mistaken?

  8. Daniel Clifton, February 2, 2013 at 11:36 p.m.

    I am waiting to see Jozy Altidore play for the USMNT like he does for his club team, and I am not putting the blame on Jozy. The temperature being in the 80's shouldn't be that big of a deal. Who is going to start in the back with Cameron? Isn't it time to give Gonzalez a shot, or maybe Besler. I agree with the commenters who say they are uneasy going into this first game of the Hexagonal. I am too. I think at times Klinsmann has done a good job and at other times he has not. I in particular don't like his use of so many defensive midfielders . It flys in the face of his talk about a more offensive oriented team. I would like to see guys like Klesjtans and Diselrud, or for that matter Feilhaber, on the field more.

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