Call it the dwindling Class of 2010. The collection of U.S. men's national team players who were part of the 2010 World Cup team, and who still have a realistic chance of being on the 2014 roster is growing smaller.
While Carlos Bocanegra and Jay DeMerit simply fade out of the picture, and with Steve Cherundolo announcing his retirement last week, the number of players Jurgen Klinsmann can call on with actual World Cup experience is shrinking by the week.
Klinsmann is doing his part to shorten that list even more, as we learned after digesting the roster announced on Wednesday by Klinsmann for next week’s friendly against Mexico. Included were young newcomers DeAndre Yedlin and Luis Gil, who were in high school when Landon Donovan was vanquishing Algeria with his unforgettable goal at the 2010 World Cup. Missing from the roster were World Cup veterans Benny Feilhaber and Jose Torres.
As much as you can argue both might still earn a look in the May pre-World Cup training camp, the absences of Feilhaber and Torres felt very much like the turning of a page, and step away from older options toward younger ones.
Feilhaber’s exclusion was somewhat surprising because of how well he has played early in the 2014 MLS season (and his team’s futile CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal loss to Cruz Azul). Even Feilhaber’s form in Sporting Kansas City’s run to the 2013 MLS Cup supported his case as someone Klinsmann should still consider. Klinsmann obliged with a January camp call-up, but when faced with the choice between Feilhaber and the 20-year-old Gil, Klinsmann gave another nod toward the future.
It might seem unfair for a player in Feilhaber who really does seem to be finding his best form now, but it makes sense when you consider the depth chart and the role really in play. Clint Dempsey is clearly Klinsmann’s first-choice playmaker, the player he most covets for the attacking midfield role in his 4-2-3-1. The second choice for the position is Landon Donovan, who will likely be deployed wide in deference to Dempsey.
With those two stars topping the playmaker depth chart, you can’t really blame Klinsmann for wanting another look at the future of the position in Gil, who is blossoming nicely in Real Salt Lake’s system. Entering his third season as a starter for RSL, the 20-year-old Gil impressed in the January camp and showed Klinsmann enough to buy into the idea that Gil could be a major part of the U.S. Olympic efforts in 2016.
Could Klinsmann be passing on Feilhaber because of the number of matches he has played in recent weeks for Sporting Kansas City? That is entirely possible, but as much as we could still see Feilhaber in the May camp, it looks pretty clear at this point that he is a long shot for the 2014 World Cup squad.
Torres is in a similar situation to Felihaber. He has been on good form recently for UANL Tigres, emerging as a regular starter after taking on mostly a reserve role in the Fall Liga MX season. His absence from the roster was thought to possibly be injury-related at first, but Torres played in a Copa MX match the night before the U.S. roster announcement and there are no signs injury kept him out.
The harsh reality is he has never shown much in his past looks under Klinsmann, as much as part of that might be chalked up to Torres being miscast as a left-sided midfielder, there were always questions about whether Torres really fit in a deep-lying midfield role in Klinsmann’s systems. With so many better options there, from starters Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones, to Kyle Beckerman and Maurice Edu, and even Danny Williams, Torres just never could get a foothold in the player pool.
Not all 2010 World Cup veterans on the roster fringes were left out in the cold. Maurice Edu marks his return after more than a year away. His last national team performance was a start in the World Cup qualifying tie against Mexico at Estadio Azteca on March 26, 2013. Injury issues and absence of playing time at Stoke City dropped him off the radar, but he has jumped back into the conversation after a return to MLS and strong early showing for the Philadelphia Union.
“He could have sat there on the bench at Stoke maybe not playing much, and then there’s no chance for him to get on the World Cup roster,” Klinsmann said in a statement released by U.S. Soccer. “But he understood that, made the decision to come back and now he’s picking it up. We’re looking forward to have Mo back with us because once he’s in a rhythm, once he is fit and really zoomed in, then he’s a very good player.”
Edu has his work cut out, trying to break into a rotation that includes Klinsmann favorites Jones and Beckerman, and a positional battle also likely to include Williams, who has shown well at Reading. What Edu has managed in his handful of matches for the Union is remind doubters just how good he can be, and he strong a contender he could actually be.
Something else to consider with Edu is whether Klinsmann might consider using him as a central defender. It’s no secret that the depth in central defense is lacking, and Klinsmann surely remembers Edu’s admirable showing as a central defender in a 1-0 win against Mexico at Azteca in 2012. It might be a long shot, but the mere fact that could be an option should only help Edu’s chances as he tries to join an exclusive club if players who will have been on both the 2010 and 2014 World Cup teams.
At the moment it’s safe to project Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Clarence Goodson, DaMarcus Beasley, Bradley, Dempsey, Donovan and Altidore on the 2014 team, if healthy. Oguchi Onyewu has an outside chance of being the fourth centerback option, but didn’t help his chances in the friendly loss to Ukraine earlier this month. Herculez Gomez still has an outside chance, but his opportunity fades with each passing week he doesn’t feature as a starter at Club Tijuana.
Edu could be World Cup veteran number nine on Klinsmann’s team, but he will have to seriously impress in the coming months. That will be a challenge Edu is sure to accept gladly, especially knowing he will be given a chance to impress against Mexico, something some of his former 2010 World Cup teammates won’t have the chance to do.
THREE MORE USA ROSTER OBSERVATIONS
Yedlin could start against Mexico
Projected starting right back Brad Evans is dealing with an injury that could force him out of the Seattle Sounders’ match on the weekend, and could force him to the bench for the USA-Mexico friendly. If that is the case, expect Klinsmann to hand Yedlin a golden opportunity to impress with a start.
It might seem like a stretch to give a 20-year-old his first start in such a tough environment, but Klinsmann did the same with Matt Besler and that gamble paid major rewards. It doesn’t hurt Yedlin that he has been very solid defensively in Seattle’s first three matches of the MLS season.
Bradley, Donovan and Dempsey team up for first time in a long time
A series of unfortunate events, be they injuries, suspensions or a prolonged break from the game, have kept U.S. starts Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley from playing together since June 12th, 2012 in a 1-1 tie against Guatemala in Guatemala City.
That’s a streak of 31 U.S. matches in a row that arguably the best trio of American field players have been on the field together. Barring any unforeseen issues this weekend, all three should be in the lineup against Mexico, which should provide a big boost for a U.S. midfield still being molded by Klinsmann.
Club Tijuana Americans left out
When Club Tijuana eliminated the LA Galaxy from the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals a week ago, it freed up regular starters Donovan and Omar Gonzalez to play in the friendly against Mexico, but it cost four fringe national team prospects a chance to impress Klinsmann.
Joe Corona, Greg Garza, Edgar Castillo and Herculez Gomez could all have been called in for the Mexico friendly, but U.S. Soccer did not request the release of any of the Americans currently playing for the Xolos. Corona and Garza project as starters for Club Tijuana against Cruz Azul next week, while Castillo and Gomez appear likely to be relegated to substitute’s roles.
The timing was especially unfortunate for Corona and Garza, who have both been playing well and were keys to Club Tijuana’s win against the Galaxy. Both could still earn call-ups in May, especially if they help bring the Xolos a step closer to a Champions League title.