Hodgepodge U.S. roster lacks two Gonzalezes and Seven Standbys

By Ridge Mahoney

The roster decisions made by head coach Jurgen Klinsmann for the first camp of 2016 are a hodgepodge of the highest order.

Seven veterans on the initial list of 36 players are not in the 23-man squad, a bizarre sidelight for a coach who can’t seem to accept his own admission that this will be transitional year for the national team. The number 23 is also relevant for nearly one-half of the players, those who are age-eligible to represent the U.S. this summer at the Olympic Games. But the coach isn't quite ready to go gung-ho with the new faces, even for two low-key friendlies.

The omission of the two Gonzalezes, Omar and Jesse, from the January training camp tells two different yet parallel stories about where the U.S. national team might be headed.

Omar Gonzalez recently left MLS and the Galaxy after seven seasons to sign with Mexican club Pachuca, and good luck to Klinsmann if he tries to pry away the centerback for friendlies against Iceland (Jan. 29) and Canada (Feb. 5). The Mexican team is under no obligation to release him, as the games do not fall within the FIFA dates, and if he is called and released it would mean he’s not done enough to earn meaningful playing time for a busy schedule that starts this weekend with the Liga MX openers. There’s not a lot of experience in the backline named by Klinsmann as of the five defenders selected only Matt Besler has several years under his belt as an MLS and USA regular.

There’s also very little national team experience in goal, though Bill Hamid of D.C. United has been named to many squads during the past few years and started for the U.S. U-23s during the ill-fated qualifying campaign for the 2012 Games. He has just two caps for the senior team and his counterpart on the roster, Red Bulls keeper Luis Robles, played his only U.S. game in 2009.

Klinsmann’s plan to call up Jesse Gonzalez, who has played only 15 regular-season and playoff games for FCD at the professional level, ran aground when the 20-year-old keeper decided to stay with Mexico, for which he has played at the U-20 level. Unlike the USA, which in March must defeat Colombia to qualify for the Olympics, Mexico is readying its U-23 team for a visit to Rio this summer.

The U-23 pool already has Cody Cropper, Zach Steffen, and Ethan Horvath, who has nailed down a starting slot for Norwegian club Molde. If the USA does qualify for the Olympics, a veteran keeper could be named as one of the three permitted over-age players. Gonzalez can still petition FIFA for a one-time switch of nationality, which would be required since he played for Mexico in an official competition.

If qualification for the Olympics is indeed of vital importance, as Klinsmann has stated repeatedly, and you have 11 serious candidates in camp, why isn’t that the primary focus of these games? Grooming players for the senior team is of utmost importance, and of great necessity whether the USA plays in the Olympics or not. 

The idea of consigning veteran players to standby status is also rather bizarre. No matter the opposition, they aren’t likely to be fit enough to play well against international opposition. They would have at the most a week of preseason training with their MLS clubs to draw upon if they were summoned for the 2016 opener against Iceland Jan. 29, and a few more days at best prior to a game Feb. 5 against Canada.

One of the major squawks about last year’s January camp arose when Klinsmann criticized the fitness levels of several players for the first two games of the year against Chile and Panama. Besler took exception, stating his target date was the early March opening of the MLS season and not a late-January friendly. A firestorm of debate ensued that left Klinsmann as well as Besler and several other players skewered by certain segments of the soccer community.

Besler is one of the few U.S. veterans named to the 23-man squad. The selection of Jermaine Jones, who is out of contract and at 34 is scarcely a subject for identification and development, raises the question: what exactly does Klinsmann want out of these games? Isn't it better for Matt Miazga to labor in camp knowing the coach won't bail him and his young teammates out by calling a veteran in case they struggle? Hasn't Gyasi Zardes done enough to get a couple of possible shots without the specter of Clint Dempsey hovering in the background? Or is all that stuff about the Seven Standbys pure fluff without substance, yet another of Klinsmann's psychological ploys?

We won’t know until the games have been played, and have seen which players he uses from the 23 and which he summons on short notice. Picking a hybrid squad meshes philosophically with a need for solid performances regardless of personnel or circumstance, and seeing which of the 10 uncapped players makes their U.S. debuts will certainly be intriguing.

The omission of Omar Gonzalez won’t be an issue if he secures a regular spot for Pachuca and regains a regular slot in the U.S. back line. Unless he has a change of heart, Jesse Gonzalez will be a minor footnote and nothing more.

But the tales of the two Gonzalezes remind us once again of the quirky behavior that has repeatedly punctuated the era of Klinsmann, tasked with reshaping the game in the U.S. and only marginally impactful so far.

9 comments about "Hodgepodge U.S. roster lacks two Gonzalezes and Seven Standbys".
  1. Ed M, January 7, 2016 at 8:35 a.m.

    Was this article written after a few too many beers? Or, did an American football corespondent write it?

    You seem to know more about how the US should be sleeting and training a better team than an experienced veteran player and coach who has proven himself in Germany. Look at what he really has to work with. Too many egos with not enough taking of responsibility. The US has a team that does not play together enough and when they do are all over the place. You have players like you boy Gonzalez who gives up when beat and is a bit too physical for international play. You blame Klinsmann for not selecting Jesse Gonzalez but then you also state that he has decided to play for Mexico. That is not Klinsmann. Which team is by far the best in CONCACAF? Mexico.

    Klinsmann is shaking things up like he said he would. The US is huge and the veteran players you mention are not the only players the US has to offer. Time to get players who care.

  2. Greg Giese, January 7, 2016 at 10:14 a.m.

    Gonna have to agree with Ed M. The article starts off complaining about 7 vets being left off. Then Ridge says JK doesn't realize this is a transition year. I thought transition meant old to young, hence the lack of vets. The Gonzalez's are missing due to the Olympics mattering only to Americans or women's soccer fans. So why invite players if they can't play? Duh? It is NOT even a significant soccer tournament. Even the referees are well below subpar. Remember the last U23 game? Fists thrown and not even a card given? C'mon. Regarding Jones...obviously he is getting older. His stamina has been dropping and is almost down to Bradley's level of motor and in a few years he will be nearly as inactive on the field as Clint Dempsey. The youngsters need to see someone who gives a rat's rearend on the field. hence the inclusion of Jones.

  3. Bob Ashpole replied, January 9, 2016 at 12:40 a.m.

    Apparently you missed the news that Jones has no contract. Even a young player won't be in match condition if he is not playing regularly.

  4. Ric Fonseca, January 7, 2016 at 12:52 p.m.

    Oh for goodness sakes alive!!! It's January and so let the JK skewering season begin!!! The above comments say it much better than Ragin Ridge's piece, that is somewhat discomboobelated Just

  5. Ric Fonseca, January 7, 2016 at 12:58 p.m.

    as I was saying, it is just the 7th day of the month of the first month of the year, and unless Ragin' Ridge knows something no one else, nor Klinsi for that matter, then I recommend and will throw out Ridge's name as a prime candidate for the head coaching gig of the USMNT! And just what is so complicated about this early call-up of players? Klinsmann did say he'd be looking at new blood, so what say we wait some time before the lancers are called out to begin impaling the coach?

  6. Vince Leone, January 7, 2016 at 7:46 p.m.

    The omission of Omar Gonzalez will not be an issue, period. His time with the USMNT is deservedly over.

  7. Joe Linzner, January 8, 2016 at 10:41 a.m.

    Amen, the commenters show much better thought processes than the author. The cross-suppositions certainly spea of an addled mind. Thanks folks!

  8. Dan Phillips, January 8, 2016 at 12:07 p.m.

    Jozy Altidore again? Yeech!!!

  9. Julio Moreira, January 8, 2016 at 2:03 p.m.

    For your Information.
    Excerpts from The Guardian of England. Re. Jurgen Klinsman.

    With his reformist agenda dead, an embarrassing over-dependence on Frank Ribéry and a public falling-out with key players, Klinsmann leaves with his credibility irreparably damaged.

    His list of mistakes and bad results on their own might not have been enough to warrant the sack but they were in painfully sharp contrast to his promises of a brave new Bavarian world (scientific methods, top-level tactics, personal and collective improvement).

    Klinsmann seduced the board and many neutrals – including this column – with his reformist agenda. Sadly he did not have the means or a Jogi Löw by his side to put any of it into practice. "We need a sense of new beginning," said Hoeness today. "There have been too many things holding us back recently." Heynckes was exactly the right man now, he added. "He is a football teacher," Hoeness said – as opposed to Klinsmann, he implied, who was sadly exposed as a pupil at this level.

    OMAR GONZALES best Center Fullback in the USMNT

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