In June, US Soccer announced that the USMNT would be facing Mexico in a friendly on August 15th at the famed Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
When it was first announced, many USMNT fans were hopeful that this would be an opportunity for the U.S. to finally put itself back on equal footing with El Tri after last summer’s Gold Cup debacle when Mexico came roaring back from a 2-0 deficit to beat the U.S. 4-2.
Since then, Mexico has been one of the hottest teams in the world and has had success after success on its youth levels.
The USMNT’s play since that time has been, well, to put it diplomatically, uneven.
However, yesterday, Jurgen Klinsmann announced a roster which makes little sense considering the psychological importance of the friendly.
U.S. ROSTER BY POSITION – DETAILED ROSTER
GOALKEEPERS (3): Tim Howard (Everton), Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (6): Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steven Beithasour (San Jose Earthquakes), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Michael Orozco Fiscal (San Luis), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim)
MIDFIELDERS (9): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Jose Torres (Pachuca), Brek Shea (FC Dallas), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FORWARDS (4): Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Herculez Gomez (Santos), Alan Gordon (San Jose Earthquakes), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)
The mid-August FIFA friendly date is an absurd one to being with, with most of the European leagues having just kicked off their seasons, or just about to and many players still struggling to secure last-minute transfers.
However, one wonders why US Soccer scheduled this friendly to begin with, on this date, against its arch-rival in possibly the most unfriendly stadium in the world, if it was not going to call up its top team.
Klinsmann’s roster does have some of the USMNT’s top names in Landon Donovan, Jose Torres, Tim Howard, Fabian Johnson, Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu and Herculez Gomez and some of its top prospects in Geoff Cameron, Danny Williams and Terrence Boyd.
But if the rest of the squad was going to be filled up with North American players, many of whom have little or no international experience, why was an away game against Mexico chosen for this date?
I suppose if a coach is going to look at new faces, he wants to see them in a tough environment against a top team, but many of Klinsmann’s choices appear to be clearly over their head.
If this roster is going to be used for evaluating new talent, as it seems to be, then why are Tim Howard and Geoff Cameron being forced to make the long flight over the Atlantic, only days before the EPL season kicks off?
With a second-hand defense in front of him, playing against one of the hottest teams in the world in one of the most unfriendly and difficult venues on the planet, Tim Howard is certain to have a very tough day. What good is that going to accomplish for him or for the team?
If Klinsmann is intent to work primarily with his North American talent, then surely Nick Rimando and Sean Johnson are enough for this match. With Tim Howard having no clear heir-apparent, and Klinsmann not calling in his top-tier defenders, wouldn’t the match be better used to give Rimando or Johnson a game of international match experience rather than get his first-team goalkeeper killed only days before his club season begins?
The selection of Geoff Cameron is even more baffling. Again, if Klinsmann is planning on using the game to look at new North American players, wouldn’t this game be a good opportunity for Klinsmann to take his first look at Omar Gonzalez or call-up someone with big game experience like Jay Demerit?
Cameron on the other hand is just settling in at a new club in a new country. Having just been cleared to play for Stoke City after being granted a work permit, Cameron will now miss several key days of training prior to the EPL season kicking off this weekend.
And if Klinsmann is ok with calling in his English players, where are Eric Lichaj and Tim Ream?
On the other hand, if Klinsmann is trying to use this game as a measuring stick heading into key September World Cup qualifiers as it appeared to be when the game was originally scheduled, where are regulars Carlos Bocanegra, Clarence Goodson, Clint Dempsey and Steve Cherundolo?
Klinsmann claimed to have left Bocanegra off the roster because of he is looking to move away from Rangers, but Maurice Edu is in the same situation and was called in.
Klinsmann also saw fit to call in most of the Bundesliga contingent, but inexplicably left off Cherundolo and Alfredo Morales.
Furthermore, why did San Jose Earthquake forward Alan Gordon receive a call-up over Eddie Johnson or Juan Agudelo?
Perhaps the biggest problem of all is that there seems to be no clear purpose to this friendly.
If it is being used to prepare for upcoming competitive matches, as this summer’s matches against Scotland, Brazil and Canada were used to prepare for upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Antigua and Barbuda and Honduras, where are the top players?
If it is being used to look at previously untested players to evaluate them for possible future call-ups, as the USMNT annual January camp is used each year, why are so many veterans included?
Perhaps a bigger question would be to U.S. Soccer to see how much money they are expecting to make from this game.
This is an honest question as U.S. Soccer has scheduled friendlies in the past that did nothing to help the squad, but were simply used to make money. One good example would be last summer’s embarrassing defeat to Spain at Gillette Stadium scheduled only days before the Gold Cup kicked off.
Because of the close proximity to the beginning of the Gold Cup, Bob Bradley chose to field a second-tier team and the U.S. was crushed. Many USMNT fans (myself included) spent a pretty penny flying out to New England for that game, for a hotel and tickets to the game only to see a mockery of our beloved national team take the field.
The U.S. is playing Mexico at the Azteca on Wednesday with another second-tier side. It could be another debacle which will do the squad no good as it heads into two months of critical 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
John D. Halloran