There was a time not too long ago that a friendly featuring a mostly MLS-based U.S. men's national team roster would be seen as a pretty weak squad, and one that would offer little insight into the true state of the full team. The recent exodus of top American stars from Europe to MLS, coupled with the struggles of European-based Americans, have turned that around and now a mostly MLS-based U.S. team can actually give you a good measure of just where the national team stands.
That's what makes next week's friendly against Mexico unique from past friendlies. The U.S. team Jurgen Klinsmann puts on the field against 'El Tri' could feature as many as eight of 10 potential field player starters for the World Cup, and several other key bench options.
Throw in the fact that Mexico is also at a point where it's relying heavily on Liga MX-based players and you suddenly have a friendly that is not only intriguing because of the rivalry, but because the match is very important in each team's preparations for the World Cup.
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For Klinsmann, it will be a chance to look at several players who have enjoyed strong starts to the 2014 MLS season, including Maurice Edu and Michael Parkhurst, who have both seen their returns from Europe look like very smart decisions.
The match has taken on added importance because of Julian Green's recent commitment to the USA, which will make the Mexico friendly his debut. Klinsmann is all but assured of handing Green his first cap, and the young Bayern Munich prospect will most assuredly want to make a strong first impression on his new coach, teammates and the scores of U.S. fans so eager to finally see him in action.
The Mexico friendly was supposed to also be an opportunity for Liga MX-based Americans to impress Klinsmann, but with Club Tijuana competing in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals, we aren't likely to see players like Joe Corona and Greg Garza, who have established themselves as key figures in the Xolos' quest for a CCL title.
There will still be some good talent for Klinsmann to choose from. Here is a look at what the U.S. national team squad will look like that takes on Mexico on April 2 in Arizona:
GOALKEEPERS: Nick Rimando, Sean Johnson, Tally Hall, Bill Hamid
Klinsmann has looked at this group of goalkeepers on a consistent basis, and if he decides to bring just three goalkeepers in then Hamid could be the odd man out. Rimando is the clear-cut No. 3 and should get the start.
DEFENDERS: Brad Evans, Michael Parkhurst, Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez, Clarence Goodson, Michael Orozco, DaMarcus Beasley, Edgar Castillo
Pretty straightforward group, with Orozco and Beasley both coming in as regular starters for Puebla. If Garza was available he would certainly be part of this group, and with Garza having taken his starting job recently, Castillo could be made available for the friendly by Club Tijuana. Even though his showing against Ukraine was awful, Klinsmann has a penchant for giving players multiple chances.
If Klinsmann has given up on the Castillo experiment, then you could see young Seattle fullback DeAndre Yedlin called in.
As far as a starting defense, Evans, Gonzalez, Besler and Beasley make sense as the top options.
MIDFIELDERS: Michael Bradley, Kyle Beckerman, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Graham Zusi, Brad Davis
Feilhaber is off to a good start to the 2014 season and merits a look. He also likely benefits from the expected absence of Corona. Brad Davis should have his chance to measure up against new challenger Julian Green.
Edu returns to the mix, and will have a chance to push Beckerman for his World Cup spot. One player who looks to just miss out is Luis Gil, though Klinsmann would probably be wise to bring him in to have another look at the young and talented Real Salt Lake midfielder.
One player who could be included if healthy is Jose Torres, who has enjoyed a strong recent run of form, but who recently suffered an injury that puts his availability in doubt.
As for a starting group against Mexico, if Klinsmann plays a 4-2-3-1, look for Bradley, Beckerman, Zusi, Dempey and Donovan to get the call.
FORWARDS: Eddie Johnson, Chris Wondolowski, Herculez Gomez, Julian Green
Johnson and Wondolowski will fight for the starting role against Mexico, while Gomez remains a question mark because Club Tijuana can choose to keep him for next week's CCL semifinal first leg even though he doesn't seem likely to start.
Who else could merit a look from Klinsmann? Will Bruin is off to a good start and has earned looks from Klinsmann before, while reigning MLS MVP Mike Magee could also earn a look.
This brings us to Green, who is all but assured of being handed his U.S. national team debut against Mexico. He won't start, but should come off the bench as a left forward in a 4-3-3, or left winger in a 4-2-3-1. He is the player most U.S. fans want to see next week, and Klinsmann is all but assured of showcasing his big catch within a strong U.S. team facing a stiff test from Mexico. A perfect scenario for the debut of such a highly-regarded prospect.
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- Jurgen Klinsmann
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