It's no secret I'm not a huge fan of Jurgen Klinsmann's roster selection for the United States. But to an extent, he proved me wrong during the World Cup, that knockout game against Belgium notwithstanding.
So I'm not going to rip into his decision to call up a bunch of kids that are eligible for the 2016 Olympics in Brazil next summer, and I'm going to try and temper my expectations for a USA U23 side that failed to qualify for the last Olympic tournament in 2013. The January camp is designed to get mostly domestic based players experience with the senior team, so just because I have a different take on which uncapped players should be getting looks doesn't mean Klinsmann's totally out of his mind.
But in a few months, the US will be defending it's Gold Cup title and I have a lot of doubts about some of these players being involved in that tournament set to begin in the spring of 2016 (assuming it happens around the same time as the 2012 tournament which was from March 22-April 2, hasn't been officially announced yet). A win would put the Americans back into the Confederations Cup for 2017, a tournament they haven't played in since a runner-up finish in 2009 in South Africa.
As a New England Revolution fan, this is a missed opportunity for guys like Andrew Farrell and Kelyn Rowe, players that have an outside chance to be involved in the upcoming Gold Cup this summer and the 2018 qualifying cycle as a whole, to give players with Olympic eligibility more of a look. Unless guys like Dennis Flores and Marc Pelosi are going to be involved in the Gold Cup this summer, this is a strategy I do not like, but Klinsmann has proven me wrong in the past and it's not for a competitive tournament so I can't gripe that much.
That doesn't mean this roster isn't without tremendous flaws. The defense lacks a true left-back and with Perry Kitchen included as a defender, rather than his usual holding midfield role, leaves the backline seemingly short several players depth-wise and very heavy on right and center backs. If Brad Evans slides over to start at left back, that would arguably leave uncapped Shane O'Neill (Colorado Rapids) and Oscar Sorto (Los Angeles Galaxy/LAG II) to start at right back in Chile. Christian Dean (Vancouver Whitecaps) is a left-footed center back who theoretically could slide over but that's hardly something I'd want to test for a player with all of four games and 123 minutes in 2014.
But I am very happy to see guys like Steve Birnbaum and Perry Kitchen from D.C. United, two younger players who have bright futures with the national team, especially Kitchen who as far as I'm concerned has a very good chance of emerging into a Kyle Beckerman-like role going forward in the cycle. But with DaMarcus Beasley's retirement and Greg Garza with club obligations, this would've been a great opportunity to bring in several left-back candidates like Chris Tierney, Robbie Rogers and even Chris Klute to see how they fair with a big summer ahead of the US squad.
The midfield is also a bit of a mystery, but that's mostly because I don't know what the Klinsmann's preferred starting lineup would be. Certainly I'd expect to see Michael Bradley and Mix Diskerud but the question is where, as a holding midfield pair or both further up field with Bradley in the center and Mix out wide to the right. Brek Shea's not exactly a shock to start wide left and Lee Nguyen and youngsters Luis Gil and Wil Trapp offer a lot of depth to this unit.
Then you have Dennis Flores, midfielder from Club Leon in LigaMX, and vaunted Liverpool academy prospect Marc Pelosi who spent most of last year recovering from a broken leg. As happy as I am for both of these players, and Pelosi was getting a regular look with the Liverpool reserves before his injury, I'd much rather see someone like a Kelyn Rowe or Dillon Powers to give the midfield a more dynamic look, particularly off the bench for the two friendlies.
Now, there are several regulars from the USMNT that aren't with the team for a variety of reasons. GK Bill Hamid was a late scratch with a injury, Omar Gonzalez and Graham Zusi have their own injuries to deal with and Beckerman opted to not join due to the changeovers at RSL this offseason all from tweets by the legend himself, Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider).
And I would have no problem with having lesser known Olympic-eligible/younger players replacing these four players in the 28 man squad. MLS Generation Adidas signing from Syracuse, GK Alex Bono, is in camp along side Sporting Kansas City's John Kempin. They'll back up regulars Nick Rimando and Sean Johnson and that's completely fine. Two young strikers in Gyasi Zardes and Tesho Akindele get deserved call ups along with relative unknown Julio Morales who played 17 games for the now defunct Chivas USA in 2013, scoring twice. Regulars Chris Wondolowski and Bobby Wood, for better or worse, are also in camp.
We can all sit around and complain before the camp of the continual mixed messages Klinsmann is sending to MLS and whether or not whether or not using the national team to help the U23 Olympic team is a good idea. But he's keeping it interesting for sure, but with 28 players in camp for a squad to have this many holes to me is still borderline mind-boggling. And I know that the results in the friendlies technically don't mean anything, but you also have to set your team up to succeed and as far as I'm concerned, this is a roster that is too think on the flanks to be successful on the field.
But aside from the lack of depth at fullback and on the wings, I don't think there's a enough depth to put out a strong second string if we're to assume that Klinsmann wants to use his regulars against Chile and his backups against Panama. If he uses his regulars to start both games then why call in the kids in the first place? Why not bring together a fairly talented second team to push the regulars in training for two weeks?
Here are my starting lineups for the two games:
AT CHILE (Jan 28) 4-2-3-1 - Nick Rimando (Sean Johnson); Brad Evans, Matt Besler, Jermaine Jones, Shane O'Neill; Michael Bradley, Mix Diskerud; Brek Shea, Lee Nguyen, Gyasi Zardes; Clint Dempsey (Chris Wondolowski)
VS PANAMA (Feb 8) 4-1-4-1 - Jon Kempin (Alex Bono); Christian Dean, Steve Birnbaum, Perry Kitchen, Oscar Sorto; Wil Trapp; Miguel Ibarra, Marc Pelosi, Lusi Gil, Tesho Akindele; Bobby Wood
Okay, so I didn't use everyone and I have no idea how to solve the lack of depth out wide and I'm sure that this isn't what Klinsmann is going to do but essentially you have a make shift first team that probably won't get much training against and U23 team and likewise, a U23 team that could be largely out of there element competing with the regulars. And if you combine the roster into two even teams, then your losing out on building chemistry six months away from the Gold Cup.
For what it's worth, that first team actually isn't all that bad and there are several young players that I think will do really well in the friendlies, mostly Zardes, Birnbaum and Kitchen (if he plays in the midfield) and even Luis Gil off the bench can be a nice change of pace against a pretty talented team in Chile. But I have a hard time seeing a lot of these players getting anything more than a late cameo 18 months before the Olympics.
Not something that instills confidence in me 6 months from a Gold Cup. But let's see what the kids have, this is really the beginning of the 2018 cycle and three years from now some of these players could be heavily involved in qualification.