The way that Jurgen Klinsmann has managed the selection and publicity of this weekend’s World Cup Qualifying roster for the Men’s National Team, you’d think this is a simple friendly and not a win or bust set of games.
Last week, many of the nations who will be caught up in qualifying battles announced their rosters. Klinsmann waited until what seemed like the last possible moment to release the names of players who would be participating in the Qualifiers. The first match is tonight, when the US takes the pitch in the Caribbean, facing Antigua and Barbuda.
Explanations are good when it comes to anomalies. I haven’t really seen a good one when it comes to the seemingly tardy announcement. Left to my own devices, it seems like the plausible explanation is that Klinsmann was unsure about the fitness of a few players, and wanted to have all the information in front of him to make a decision.
But when Tuesday came around, and players jetted in from various points around the world, Landon Donovan (ankle) and Brek Shea (abdominal strain) were deemed unfit and got sent home. Edgar Castillo (foot) is also out, and Fabian Johnson will not be available on Friday due to flu symptoms.
It’s tough to find out information about Castillo’s injury. He played the full 90 minutes for Tijuana in a 1-0 victory over Toluca on the weekend. None of the reports I have read indicate whether he picked up the injury in that match, at training with the USMNT, or elsewhere.
But that’s not my main issue. My concern is when it comes to Donovan and Shea. Donovan clearly was injured in their big match against Real Salt Lake, and was removed from the pitch. Shea did not play against Chivas USA on the weekend, suffering from an abdominal strain. The fact Klinsmann waited until Monday to release the roster should have given ample time to determine that Donovan and Shea were unavailable. If they were clearly unfit, why put them in the roster at all? And why are there no reinforcements being called up?
With Donovan’s injury, what about Jozy Altidore coming in to at least be on the reserves in case of further injury? Nah, this is another Klinsmann addition to the team – drama and mind games. Altidore’s form has been stellar for AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands, and is in a tie for the league lead in scoring (though he did get sent off this past weekend). But that’s not good enough for Klinsmann. “The reason why he’s not coming in is mainly about his performances at Jamaica and at home, also in training, also certain things that went on through the May-June camp,” Klinsmann said in a conference call in advance of the Qualifiers.
In other words, it’s a perfect time to correct Altidore’s problems, while Donovan is unavailable and the U.S. has been its least productive in matches involving second (and lower) tier CONCACAF nations. If the scoring problems continue, and the US comes out of this long weekend out of the World Cup Qualifying process, there will be a lot of questions for Klinsmann to address. One will probably involve the use of a do-or-die match weekend to play head games with one of his players. Klinsmann is right that Altidore has not performed well recently for the USMNT, but this is a very audacious move - perhaps even unnecessary.
Chances are good that the US will advance out of this round and into the Hexagonal, but this last batch of roster moves is curious at best. On paper, the Americans should take care of business and defeat both opponents. If that happens, then retrospect should look kindly upon Klinsmann’s tactic with Altidore’s ego.
Never mind that the Americans should have “taken care of business” in June and/or September, but failed to meet expectations in both situations. Earlier wins in Panama and Mexico in friendlies mean nothing; a win on Friday in Antigua would triple the points his teams have won south of the border when the chips are actually down. The pressure is on now, and there is very little wiggle room for the Americans this weekend.