Perhaps it is fitting that the U.S. national team’s friendly against Ukraine next week has been moved to the tiny island of Cyprus, because the match will serve as a soccer version of the reality show "Survivor."
The March 5 friendly carries so much importance for Jurgen Klinsmann’s preparations because it will be his last chance to see the Europe-based players before he calls in his preliminary World Cup squad for camp in May. It will also be the last chance for many fringe players to show Klinsmann they are worth monitoring over the next two months and calling back up in May.
For that reason, cancelling the match altogether was never really an option, even with Ukraine in the throes of a revolution. U.S. Soccer had to make it happen, and Ukraine obliged by moving the match to Cyprus.
Now that the match will definitely be played, Klinsmann will have his chance to raid what is suddenly a relatively barren selection of Europe-based options. Sure, there are some national team regulars such as Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, Jozy Altidore, Aron Johannsson and Alejandro Bedoya, but this U.S. roster will be filled out with some players who can be best described as extreme fringe options.
The exodus of national team pool players from Europe to MLS has created an opportunity for some players who only a few months ago would have been considered nowhere near Klinsmann’s radar.
Here is a rundown of players who could see their first U.S. national team action in six months or more when the United States faces Ukraine next week:
The German-born central midfielder has enjoyed success since making the move from the Bundesliga to the English League Championship. A regular starter for Reading, Williams has impressed with his steady play, tenacious ability to cover ground and a recent nose for goal.
Williams has played himself into the central midfield conversation, and could make a serious play for the roster spots currently held by the likes of Kyle Beckerman and Mix Diskerud.
A rough summer of 2012 saw Onyewu fall out of the national team picture, but with regular playing time and good reviews of his time with Sheffield Wednesday over the past month, Onyewu has played his way back into the conversation.
A recent injury sidelined him temporarily, but Onyewu returned to action last week. He will need to show Klinsmann that he has regained the mobility that was clearly lacking during last summer's Gold Cup.
A player Klinsmann has rarely called in but has repeatedly mentioned as being on the radar, Ream has played himself into the national team picture. He is regularly starting for Bolton and showing versatility by playing center back, left back and even defensive midfield.
Ream is an excellent passer out of the back, but if he is called in to face Ukraine, he will need to show Klinsmann that he has improved enough defensively to really compete for a potential World Cup roster spot.
A brutal broken leg sidelined him last year, and cost him a place in the Under-20 World Cup, but he has recovered and re-established himself as a regular starter for Birmingham City. That’s an impressive feat for a 20-year old.
Is Packwood a realistic option for the World Cup? Probably not. But as a promising young center back, Packwood is someone Klinsmann will want to see up close.
Considering he just returned after a four-month injury layoff, and hasn’t been in a U.S. camp since September 2012, Spector seems like a stretch to get a look. But his versatility and experience make him an intriguing option for Klinsmann to consider.
Spector’s work at right back in the 2009 Confederations Cup was memorable, but he has seen time more recently in a defensive midfield role for Birmingham City. Klinsmann will probably want to give Spector a look at right back considering the lack of options at that position.
PROJECTING THE USA ROSTER
What could the U.S. national team roster for the Ukraine friendly wind up looking like? Here is one projection of the Europe-based squad, which will gather in Frankfurt, Germany, on Sunday for two days of training before departing for Cyprus:
GOALKEEPERS: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Cody Cropper
DEFENDERS: Geoff Cameron, Oguchi Onyewu, John Brooks, Fabian Johnson, Tim Ream, Will Packwood, Jonathan Spector, Eric Lichaj
MIDFIELDERS: Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones, Danny Williams, Mix Diskerud, Alejandro Bedoya, Sacha Kljestan, Brek Shea.
FORWARDS: Jozy Altidore, Aron Johannsson, Terrence Boyd, Juan Agudelo
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