Analyzing the USMNT Roster for Mexico Friendly
The United States Men's National Team faces off against Mexico in San Antonio this Wednesday, April 15, a date which falls outside of FIFA's official international calendar. That allows teams to opt out of releasing their players, forcing head coaches Jurgen Klinsmann and Miguel Herrera to select squads only from willing clubs, primarily in North America.
While any match between these rivals will always be hotly contested, that fact means this one won't feature the high-profile European-based stars. It will instead be a test of their respective domestic talent pools, searching for depth ahead of an important Gold Cup this summer for both squads that will, in part, determine a berth in the 2017 Confederations Cup. As such, both managers also elected to leave off a few established veteran stars who are certain to be in their future plans in favor of more borderline prospects at which they wanted a second look.
US Soccer relased the call-ups on Sunday, which you can read here, with one alteration so far: DC United's Perry Kitchen will replace Puebla's Michael Orozco when Puebla refused to release the defender in the midst of a relegation fight. Below, I give you my position-by-position analysis of the call ups in terms of how the current squad looks and what they might portend for future major tournament rosters. No presumptions about formation were made, so positions are taken straight from the release.
Goalkeepers (3): Bill Hamid (DC United), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake), William Yarborough (Club Leon)
Bill Hamid has been long tipped to be one for the future in the assembly line of great American keepers, and at 24, it seems as though he may already be fulfilling that potential: he was named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year last year. However, don't expect him to be the US number 1 in the near future, since 'keepers tend to hit their prime much later than position players, and the US already has a very good one in Brad Guzan. Nick Rimando is an excellent MLS starter and respected leader, so he'll continue to be a contributor in a reserve role for the national side, but he's on the wrong side of 35 to ever be first-choice. William Yarborough is a 25-year-old American-Mexican (as opposed to a Mexican-American) who Klinsmann recruited into the fold recently and has been having a stand-out season in Liga MX. It's not clear what his ceiling will be but my guess is he could end up just as influential as Rimando in time.
This position has always been well-stocked in the US pool, and seems to remain that way. I'd imagine that one or more of the above three will make the Gold Cup roster, and that this call-up very much represents Klinsmann's top choices below the EPL-based guys. There are younger, more obscure prospects at home (Sean Johnson with the Fire) and abroad (such as Southhampton's Cody Cropper) but they're significantly behind the aforementioned group. No notable omissions here.
Defenders (8): Ventura Alvarado (Club America), Matt Besler (Sporting KC), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Greg Garza (Club Tijuana), Omar Gonzales (LA Galaxy), Perry Kitchen (DC United), Brek Shea (Orlando City FC), DeAndre Yedlin (Tottenham Hotspur)
Here's where things start to get interesting. Besler and Evans are USMNT-veterans who have had a bit of a rough time in MLS so far. The versatile Evans has shifted to center-back in the Sounders back line, and was promptly torn apart by an unfancied San Jose attack. Besler hasn't managed to regain his form from the World Cup either. Klinsmann clearly rates both of them, so this is an opportunity for them to show that his faith is well-placed. It would be appropriate, too, since Besler's breakout performance came against Mexico in the spring 3 years ago.
Greg Garza has performed admirably and may represent a solution to the US's decades-long problem area: left back. The other possible solution is Brek Shea, who moved back to MLS and switched from wing to fullback on the left side. Both moves have paid off handsomely so far, and although he's hardly a prototype, he's got the size, quality, and youth (he just turned 25) to grow into the role in time. DeAndre Yedlin is a mild surprise as a European-based player who made his first senior appearance for the club on Saturday. However, Tottenham clearly don't deem him essential yet and Klinsmann wants to give the man who is perhaps his brightest young prospect the most opportunity to develop possible. Omar Gonzales is a mainstay at this point, but more because of the weakness of his position than dominant performances.
Ventura Alvarado is a dual-national recruit, and in his short time with the US he's yet to make much of an impression, and he'll look to do so here. Perry Kitchen is another defender short on experience, but the 23-year-old appears to be fulfilling some of the potential he's long been rumored to possess, although he primarily plays as a midfielder for his club side (and did so for Klinsmann against Panama in his debut).
There are a few Bundesliga-based players who may have the inside track on starting spots for the next competitive cycle, but no spots are already locked down and this list could well break into those berths.
In terms of veteran omissions, Jermaine Jones is dinged up and unavailable but his place is safe. Clarence Goodson was overlooked despite a lights-out beginning to the season with the San Jose Earthquakes. This is the first time since his World Cup snub that he's been healthy for a call-up and it's possible that he and Klinsmann have permanently parted company as he nears the end of his career. Dark horses Matt Hedges and Steve Birnbaum both are dealing with knocks and won't get the chance to play themselves into contention. Shane O'Neill may one day be a factor here but wasn't included. The rest of the domestic pool is quite a bit farther from seeing playing time.
Midfielders (6): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Mix Diskerud (NYC FC), Miguel Ibarra (Minnesota United FC), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution)
Klinsmann sticks to his guns with this group. Bradley, Corona, and Diskerud are all regulars in the current regime and will likely continue to play major roles through thick and thin. Beckerman is an old favorite who is past his prime and won't be long for the USMNT, although he can certainly help the team win this summer and maybe even beyond. Lee Nguyen isn't exactly young, but he's recently been welcomed back into the national team fold after an MVP-caliber season in MLS last year. He's one of the very few players the US has that are true attacking midfielders, capable of passing forward and scoring on their own, so if he plays well he could be a big addition. Miguel Ibarra fits the bill of an "intruiging" prospect from an unorthodox background (he's currently in NASL) and has looked decent in the senior side so far, but has yet to break out. Klinsmann clearly sees something in him, but it's unclear if he's close to the first team at this point.
More interesting than the inclusions are the exclusions, which count amongst them some intruiging MLS prospects such as Columbus's Will Trapp and Chicago's Harry Shipp. Veteran and one-time World Cup stalwart Maurice Edu was left out, although at this point he's playing as a center defender. Similarly, Benny Feilhaber hasn't gotten a look at the national team since the 2010 World Cup despite some strong performances at the club level. Graham Zusi misses the game through injury, which is a real shame since his form has fallen off fairly dramatically since appearing in every game at the World Cup. Real Salt Lake's Luis Gil has yet to step up his game from uber-prospect to effective pro, so we'll continue to wait for him to crack these lineups.
Either way, this is a position group in flux beyond Bradley with very few foreign-based players (pretty much just Alejandro Bedoya) as certain contributors. Where the rest of the talent lies is in potential dual-national recruits such as Darlington Nagbe or younger prospects like Gedion Zelalem, Emerson Hyndman, Christian Pulisic, and the like. As such, we might have to wait another few years before we see further difference makers added to this group. For now, what you see above is pretty much what you get from the US midfield.
Forwards (5): Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Julian Green (Hamburg), Jordan Morris (Stanford University), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)
Without established line-leader Jozy Altidore due to injury, this group is decidedly experimental. Wondo is still in Klinsmann's good graces despite his painful World Cup miss because of leadership, hard work, and decent form as a pure finisher, although he's 32 and is unlikely for subsequent WC duty. Agudelo is back stateside after his career stalled over the last 18 months attempting to make a go of it in Europe, and he now has the chance to add club-level production to match his prodigiuous talents, but he has yet to do so. I'll remind everyone, including myself, that he's just 22 and has some time to figure it out especially after being out in the wilderness for so long. Gyasi Zardes is mega-talented yet somewhat positionless (Klinsmann has played him up top and out wide already with the senior team) and a bit unseasoned. It's clear that Jurgen is betting on him to come good soon, and this small and second-rate selection of strikers should allow him to be a focal point in the game.
Julian Green is an interesting case. Just a year ago heralded as one of the great US prospects of all time as a scorer of an exquisite World Cup goal, but at 19 many have already proclaimed him a dead man walking after a season of almost no action for loan club Hamburg and public spats with its management. Klinsmann called him into the last set of friendlies but didn't play him, and seems to be intent on developing his professionalism and mental approach as much as his footballing abilities. That's what this call up reads like, too.
Jordan Morris is another unorthodox background player, still technically an amateur as a Stanford University student although with an offer from the Seattle Sounders in hand when he chooses to take it. He's got the physical tools to be a top MLS-level forward but he's raw and underdeveloped. Jurgen clearly likes him, and seems to be willing to take a gamble on the high upside that such an odd prospect may possess. Similar to Zardes and Green, this particular selection pool puts him closer to the field than usual for a match of this proportion.
There are no significant senior admissions aside from Jozy's injury, and the youth omissions are really only those that are much more speculative prospects (such as Jordan Allen, Tommy Thompson, Ethan Finlay, and Bradford Jameison IV). There is quite a lot more depth abroad comparatively speaking than in other positions, with Aron Johannson, Terrence Boyd, Rubio Rubin, and others all plying their trade already in top European leagues. As such, this group will have to really prove itself to maintain its spot in the pecking order.