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On the hot seat: Players who need to impress in next week’s U.S. national team camp

Mar 26, 2014, 11:39 PM EDT

Klinsmann-Mexico

U.S. Soccer has developed a helpful habit of posting a Q&A with head coach Jurgen Klinsmann whenever a new squad is announced. Compared to the openness of his previous, perfectly reasonable predecessors, Klinsmann’s a set of saloon doors, offering no resistance to whatever wants to pass though. This isn’t Bob Bradley or Bruce Arena. Klinsmann has no problem letting information blow on by. His players have already heard it all before, anyway.

Back to the Q&As. While they’re helpful, nice, and a great way to connect with fans, they’re actually not that informative. For example, the themes touched upon in today’s session include the importance of next week’s camp (you think?), communicating with players (this happens), his expectations for his 22-man squad (strong performance, duh), and his thoughts on Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi, and Maurice Edu (these are good players). This is all information we knew yesterday.

There were a few reoccurring themes Klinsmann hammered home. Though the upcoming camp is important, he and his staff are looking at every day, at this point. As vital as it is for players to perform well in U.S. training, it’s also important that the desire to win a spot in the 23-man squad is reflected in their club-level play. From the Q&A:

“We want to see that now over the next couple months, not only in our game against Mexico – that’s the best stage they can have – but especially in MLS games. We literally over the weekend follow all the games. It’s pretty intense now the amount of scouting we do with everyone on our staff. We want to see that they have that sense of urgency, that they are sharp, that they do the right thing, and they show the right leadership because every senior national team player has to be a leader on his club team. That’s why he’s a national team player. We follow all that now week-in, week-out and the players are going to make it very difficult for us at the end of the day to choose 23 players out of that big group.”

For a small group called up on Wednesday, this camp’s performance needs to combine with recent history, club play, and fit on the final roster if they’re going to Brazil. In that sense, next week’s sessions are less about Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and the rest of the team’s locks. It’s more about the handful of players who need the good performances to crack the 30- — and then, 23- — man rosters.

(MORE: Position-by-position: Breaking down the U.S.’s squad for Mexico)

Here are the players who need to impress most next week:

Brad Davis, LM, Houston Dynamo – When U.S. Soccer announced Julian Green would switch affiliations, the big loser was thought to be Brek Shea, who was (is?) in the running as a change-of-pace option off the bench. The more you look at the picture, though, Brad Davis seems to be the likely odd man out. On the left side, Landon Donovan and Fabian Johnson are seen as potential starters. Eddie Johnson and DeMarcus Beasley can also play out there, though Beasley is unlikely to do so. If Green is being given every chance to win a spot on the team, where does that leave Davis? Without a strong week with the national team, it will leave him at home this summer.

source: Getty ImagesMaurice Edu, M, Philadelphia Union – Edu has a long way to go, having fallen off the first team radar once he lost playing time with Stoke City. In today’s Q&A, however, Klinsmann spoke highly of the Union midfielder, saying “he understands the timing needs to be there now if he wants to play.” With only three central midfielders locked in (Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Kyle Beckerman) there’s at least one bench spot in the middle up for grabs. While that may go to a more attack, change-of-look option, Edu can make the case that, should somebody go down, he’s ready to step in.

Luis Gil, M, Real Salt Lake – Break down the roster into likely starters, needed backups, and “other,” and Gil decidedly rests in that last category. But with so many players able to play multiple positions — the Fabian Johnsons, Geoff Camerons, and Brad Evans of the world — Klinsmann can afford to take a couple of guys for mere experience. That means John Brooks. That means DeAndre Yedlin. That means Luis Gil. These guys could actually go. Their task isn’t so much to prove they can contribute now (though that’d obviously help). Their task is to make the claim that they’re good enough now to be vital in 2018, so vital that Klinsmann should consider giving them one of the roster’s final spots.

Julian Green, F/W, Bayern Munich – At this point, all indications are Julian Green can play himself into a spot in Brazil. If he shows up and meets Klinsmann’s high expectations, he’s going. He might push Brad Davis or Brek Shea out-of-the-way, but an 18-year-old that provides a needed (if, potentially limited) dimension can transcend a mere experience argument.

Next week, Green and Klinsmann get to show a hopeful U.S. fan base that this attacker emblazoned with the Bayern Munich trademark can contribute this summer. Even if that’s only for 15 minutes when the team is up a goal, the U.S. will be thrilled to have him.

Michael Orozco, D, Puebla – Perpetually on the edge of the first team’s radar, Orozco seems like number 22 of 22 in this group. I’m sure Klinsmann doesn’t think of it that way, but as we try to construct ways for players  to make it onto the U.S.’s World Cup roster, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where Orozco ends up in Brazil. There are just too many players ahead of him at both center and right back to construct a reasonable path to the World Cup.

Michael Parkhurst, D, Columbus Crew – After looking at all the left back options in the January camp, Klinsmann and his staff decided to call in Michael Parkhurst to start against South Korea: forgotten at Augsburg; never really a left back, capable but not spectacular Micheal Parkhurst. Rewarding his coaching staff’s faith, Parkhurst was dropped in on short notice and played fine. Versatile, experienced, reliable, Parkhurst is the exact type of player you want on the back-end of a World Cup roster, part of the reason why the new Crew captain may already have one foot on the plane to Brazil. He may only need to reinforce the perception he can be a reliable option in Brazil.

Chris Wondolowski, F, San Jose Earthquakes – As a known commodity, Wondolowski is in a tough spot. He could very well end up starting next week’s game, but unless he suddenly shows an ability to start taking on defenders or creating his own chances, he’s not going to transcend perceptions. He is an opportunists, and a good one at MLS-level, but he’s racked up his international numbers in “B” games.

Depending on how others perform (and, players’ health come May), he may yet make the team for Brazil. At this point, though, it may have less to do with “Wondo” and more to do with the other options available.

source: APDeAndre Yedlin, RB, Seattle Sounders – The national perception of DeAndre Yedlin is that he’s just this slash-and-charge option Seattle has to burst down the right side – a patronizing, limited view that’s also limited people’s ability to see his growth. He still makes mistakes at the back, but he’s also become very adept at knowing what his speed does and does not allow him to do. In that middle third — the area that makes players like Brad Evans and DeMarcus Beasley so valuable — Yedlin’s growing ability to read the game offers more than other right back options.

Ultimately, however, he’s in the same places as Gil and John Brooks. If he goes, it’s likely as an experience play. With Brad Evans, Geoff Cameron, Fabian Johnson, and Michael Parkhurst all capable of playing right back, Yedlin has a number of more-embedded players to vault to be a viable option at right back.

  1. rafibomb10 - Mar 27, 2014 at 8:38 AM

    I agree with everyone on this list Rich, but my only question would be how come there is no Eddy Johnson? I know the striker has done well enough in the past to earn time under Jurgen, but since the end of the 2013 MLS season and now he hasn’t shown much of anything. I think his transfer to DC was about as bad as it gets for the guy, and being a DC fan its painful to see him here. I truly think if he, with DC and the USMNT, can’t start producing goals, his ticket to Brazil could easily be revoked.

    • Richard Farley - Mar 27, 2014 at 12:30 PM

      To a certain extent, I agree with what you’re saying, but within the scope of next week’s camp, I’m not sure Eddie Johnson’s close to a make-or-break point. If he struggles over the next month-and-a-half, he might push himself onto the bubble come May, but there are other current locks who could, conceivably, do the same.

      If Rimando, Goodson, even Landon Donovan have a rough spring in MLS, they may enter the May camp needed to hold off a challenge from a Brad Davis-type player. I’d say the same goes for Johnson.

      At this point, however, those players would to re-open the door. I think that process goes beyond next week’s camp.

      • schmutzdeck - Mar 28, 2014 at 11:03 PM

        Everyone is so concerned over the latter half of the roster. At this point they have what they have. Green and Shea, who are both potentially late game offensive sparks are the only truly interesting significant late addition possibilities.

        I’m more concerned about how JK is going to approach the camp and the sendoff series. He will need those games and practices to make sure the US arrives at the Ghana game set up properly and ready to go.

        On paper, the US is the least talented team in the death group and, on paper, has no chance to advance.

        So what to do? The most cohesive unit in the group is Germany but the US has a chance to right up there with it.

        Cristiano is a super star but Portugal have a tendency to stand around and wait for him to take over. And there is a chance that Brazil could be a very distracting place for Cristiano and his entourage. We can only hope.

        Ghana is tough but they haven’t won outside of Africa in a while. As everyone has pointed out, beating them is key because Portugal will almost certainly be looking for a result against the US after their match with Germany. So they will need at least 3 preferably 4 points going into the Germany game.
        They can do and it should be interesting.

    • charliej11 - Mar 27, 2014 at 4:05 PM

      I think EJ if a very known commodity. I don’t like watching him at all…but there is that one moment where he scores a goal that no one in the world can….I take him….I guess. Yikes.

      Bring him off the bench when you have to have a goal and the other team is bunkering. He outjumps everyone by two feet and scores….

    • bear06 - Mar 29, 2014 at 8:17 PM

      @schmutzdeck: I highly doubt shea will be making the WC team.

  2. charliej11 - Mar 27, 2014 at 4:12 PM

    I think that everyone on the bubble is like Wondo….plays well against the B competition and struggles against the A.

    That is why the US is a top 16 team, that if put in a tough group struggles to go through.
    But that being said, I agree with what you are saying, which is probably, he doesn’t go.

    I guess I take Eddie over him. For a team, trying to win MLS or another league, no way, no how.
    Wondo is the man. Eddie is a one moment type of player with 89 minutes of frustration….but both of them would be looking to come off the bench when the team needs a goal late, IMHO, and we already know the competition will be tough, so Eddie can “rise” ( pun intended ) to the occasion.

  3. Richard Farley - Mar 27, 2014 at 4:23 PM

    Re: EJ …

    The interesting part to me is his very specific, almost out of character benefit. Jurgen seems to love using EJ’s athleticism to play him wide so that he can match up on a fullback on crosses (for a coach reported to be tactically deficient, this flips the script). When EJ plays one side — say, the left — the U.S. will build down the opposite flanks and match up EJ on what’s usually a shorter, weaker fullback.

    My memory might be failing me, but I believe they also did this against Panama. DeMarcus and Fabian worked the left. Eddie was on the right. Jozy occupied the middle, creating a one-on-one at the back post for EJ.

    It’s a great gambit to have with a 23-man roster. EJ vs. Philipp Lahm (if he plays RB)? That’s something, if the U.S. can even utilize it. Late, if Germany as a one-goal lead and is willing to cede possession, that kind of stuff could produce/steal a point. And if Klinsmann managed that at Lahm’s expense? That … would be something.

    But that’s why I think EJ is so valuable. That and this ability to fill in for Jozy should he go down means he would probably have to play his way off the squad. At this point.

  4. sdflash2006 - Mar 27, 2014 at 11:17 PM

    I like Yedlin a lot, but I am curious why he is considered to be the lock as future USMNT right back vs. Kofi Sarkodie who was the U23 right back and also has played in two MLS Cups? I get that he is fast but so is Sarkodie. Sarkodie is also not asked to bomb forward as much because he plays behind Boniek. So what am I missing?

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