A disastrous October for the United States men at both youth and senior levels left technical director and senior head coach Jurgen Klinsmann with questions to answer about the direction of his national team. But Klinsmann’s selection for November’s World Cup qualifiers, a chance to shed light on that direction, still leaves plenty of questions unresolved.
The US begins CONCACAF’s fourth round of 2018 World Cup qualifying on Nov. 14 against St. Vincent and the Grenadines before traveling to Port of Spain on Nov. 18 to face Trinidad and Tobago. Guatemala is also in the US’s group, out of which two teams will qualifying for the Hex, CONCACAF’s final, six-team qualifying round.
Young players are ever-present on the squad announced Friday by US Soccer. Portland Timber midfielder Darlington Nagbe’s citizenship issues have finally been resolved, and he has certainly earned a look with his play in Major League Soccer. Standford’s Jordan Morris and Union Berlin’s Bobby Wood earn call-ups while Seattle’s Clint Dempsey is left at home. DC United’s Bill Hamid becomes the third keeper behind Aston Villa’s Brad Guzan and Everton’ Tim Howard, but maybe most notably, Red Bulls center back Matt Miazga earns his first senior call-up – not only well deserved but a needed breath of fresh air.
But beyond that, questions still dot the roster. After his public row with Fabian Johnson after the Mexico game, Klinsmann has called the Borussia Moenchengladbach wide man in for these qualifiers anyway. While this is a positive, especially since Johnson has been in such good form for his club, what was the purpose of the public spat anyway? The US’s lack of natural fullbacks is also glaring, but that has been a problem long before Klinsmann and will be one long after he leaves, too.
While youth and fresh blood is present, there are lingering concerns about some veterans in the squad. Jermaine Jones, after publicly striking Mark Geiger in New England’s playoff game against DC United, earns another call up, not that is probably not merited, as does Real Salt Lake Kyle Beckerman after he looked off the pace against Mexico. New York City FC’s Mix Diskerud, after not being called in for the Mexico tilt, earns another cap after a poor MLS season, and shockingly, Alan Gordon is called in to camp instead of another young striker like Juan Agudelo, ostensibly in lieu of alternatives to long balls and prayers.
In these games, especially against St. Vincent, the US is going to win regardless of who suits up. So why not give a new midfielder a chance to shine, such as Wil Trapp, Fatai Alashe, Perry Kitchen? Why not give a younger talent a chance to develop a partnership with Michael Bradley that will last? These are exactly the kind of games to experiment in, and instead of attempting to experiment, Klinsmann has decided to go with players who are past their national team primes despite their past services to the team.
This roster does have positives, with the inclusion of the likes of Nagbe, Miguel Ibarra, Wood, Morris, Miazga, etc. But as ever, there are still noticeable head scratching decisions that don’t make sense. The likelihood is that won’t hurt form in this group, but making young players battle ready for the far more difficult Hex should be the goal, and that in some ways is only being half finished.
This roster, courtesy of US Soccer (below), is a step in the right direction. But it’s a half-step, and half-steps are, by their nature, half of what is needed.
U.S. Roster By Position:
GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Tim Howard (Everton)
DEFENDERS (8): Ventura Alvarado (Club America), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Matt Miazga (New York Red Bulls), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), Tim Ream (Fulham FC), Brek Shea (Orlando City SC)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Miguel Ibarra (Club Leon), Jermaine Jones (New England Revolution), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), DeAndre Yedlin (Sunderland)
FORWARDS (5): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Alan Gordon (LA Galaxy), Jordan Morris (Stanford), Bobby Wood (Union Berlin), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
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