Projecting a USA roster for an upcoming friendly can be a fool’s exercise for many reasons.
Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s penchant for springing surprises is just one variable in a complex equation. He sometimes downgrades such elements as level of performance and though he always talks of building for the future he’s also cognizant of the here and now. Losing to Mexico doesn’t sit well with anyone on the team, in the boardroom or in the stands.
As friendlies go, one could make the case that there’s no such thing when it comes to Mexico. The border rivals square off Wednesday in San Antonio in a match that never lacks for importance. Tickets sold out less than three weeks after they went on sale and not many fans will care much that Mexican national team coach Miguel Herrera has already announced an entirely domestic squad. It includes forward Erick "Cubo" Torres, who signed an MLS deal last winter that will transfer him from Chivas de Guadalajara to Houston Dynamo.
The absence of Mexico’s European-based players will be mirrored by Klinsmann for the most part though the inclusion of DeAndre Yedlin, who made his first-team debut for Totteham Saturday as a sub, wouldn’t surprise anyone. The status of Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez, who hasn’t played for the U.S. since the World Cup, is one of several pieces that don’t seem to fit Klinsmann’s plans, whatever they may be. Klinsmann has moved Jermaine Jones from midfield to the back line and apparently regards both John Brooks and Michael Orozco highly. That said, Gonzalez is still one of the top defenders in MLS, but with the Galaxy and Sounders playing Sunday Klinsmann's thinking may be altered. Jones played his first game of the season Saturday in a 0-0 tie with Columbus.
This game differs from the first four friendlies of 2015 in that it is a one-off match and will be preceded by just a few days of training. The Americans trained for more than two weeks and traveled to Chile early for the first game of the year and played Panama more than a week later. For the double-dip against Denmark and Switzerland last month the prep time was brief for the first game, but they trained for several more days before tying the Swiss, 1-1.
A daunting pair of games against the Netherlands and Germany in early June will precede the Gold Cup, and for those games the European-based players will be closely monitored by the coaching staff. A gap of nearly four weeks separates the match against Germany (June 10) and the Gold Cup opener with Honduras (July 7).
So here are the projections and some observations of who Klinsmann will pick to face Mexico. We have listed 23 players but he might elect to take fewer depending on how players recover from their weekend games.
Rimando’s experience might earn him the start against Mexico but both for the USA and RSL, he hasn’t been especially sharp of late. Hamid took giant strides last year while earning Goalkeeper of the Year honors and if he plays as impressively this year Klinsmann will have a tough choice regarding who he starts in the Gold Cup. Brad Guzan is 32 and his time has to come soon, right? If there’s a high-level, non-competitive game that would be ideal to take the measure of Hamid, this is probably it.
Klinsmann needs to start zeroing in on a Gold Cup roster of 23 and thus has a few crucial choices to make. If he’s serious about Shea as a left back he will learn a lot against Mexico, yet by scoring two goals in four games Shea has increased his chances of landing a Gold Cup slot. (This team doesn’t have a lot of great choices at left mid, either.)
Quakes defender Clarence Goodson is back to full health but he hasn’t been summoned since his exclusion from the World Cup roster. The specter of Jones looms over this group; he’s back in training with the Revs and adds to the congestion at centerback. On the other hand, Evans has endured a few rough outings at centerback but as a guy with Concacaf experience who has played multiple positions he’s got the experience to tangle with Mexico. Hedges debuted as sub at right back against Panama though he plays centerback for FC Dallas.
Yedlin is one of the few players to appear in each of the four USA games this year and in three of them he played right mid. What does that portend for the future? Who knows? In terms of defensive abilities, Alvarado is clearly in the lead. Yedlin debuted for Spurs as a sub Saturday in a 1-0 loss to Aston Villa.
Ibarra, the only NASL player in Klinsmann’s current reckoning, traveled to Europe in March without seeing a minute of action. He’s a project for the future but even as a longshot for the Gold Cup roster a run-out against Mexico for 15 or 20 minutes could be illuminating.
An overriding question is how long Klinsmann relies on Beckerman, which considering he’s moved Jones to the back line might mean Dreads stays in the picture quite a while, especially since the head coach also regards Perry Kitchen as a centerback. Those who look to the future might see Kitchen as a candidate to replace Beckerman. And the whole dynamic of Bradley as a playmaker as opposed to a box-to-box midfielder triggers a debate that isn’t likely to be settled any time soon.
Joe Corona has started nine of 12 games for Liga MX leader Club Tijuana, which plays on Friday. His last U.S. appearance was six months ago as a sub against Honduras and wasn't called in for the recent trip to Europe. A regular contributor to a first-place team who isn’t summoned to face players he knows well could be gone for good.
The status of Gil, along with that of Jordan Morris and several other players, hinges somewhat on who is picked to face the Mexico U-23s in Carson, California, a week after the national teams square off.
The suspension of Jozy Altidore throws this category wide open. Zardes labored on the right wing against Denmark and though moved up front to face the Swiss didn’t impress. Klinsmann has enough midfielders to use Dempsey up top and turn to someone else off the bench, but Zardes is cut from a mold -- that of a strong, aggressive target forward -- similar to that of Altidore. And Klinsmann could always pair one of them with Dempsey in a 4-4-2 formation rather than roll out the 4-2-3-1 with a lone forward and, probably, Dempsey underneath.
Agudelo struggled, as did the Revs, in their first few games of the season but he scored against Colorado last weekend with an audacious flick and like Nguyen, could be a catalyst off the bench against Mexico.
Tesho Akindele, the 2014 MLS Rookie of the Year with FC Dallas, attended the January camp but must decide whether to play for Canada or the USA.