TEMPE, Ariz. — A veritable who’s who of U.S. national team stars took the field for training at Sun Devil Soccer Stadium on Monday, from Landon Donovan to Clint Dempsey to Michael Bradley. As recognizable as those faces were among the sea of players, it was the presence of some exciting young prospects that drew a sizable chunk of the attention ahead of Wednesday’s USA friendly against Mexico.
Julian Green was the headliner of choice for the assembled media, and with so little known about the national team newcomer, there was a clear desire to get to know the Bayern Munich starlet. Jurgen Klinsmann chose to keep Green shielded from the growing buzz about his national team inclusion, so the 18-year-old was kept away from media availability on Monday, and won’t be speaking to the media until after Wednesday’s friendly, when he will presumably make his national team debut.
"We don't want to put any type of pressure on him or too high expectations," Klinsmann said of Green. "At the end of the day, he's a player to be developed, developed mainly in his club from one point to the next. We're going to help this development and how fast everything can then proceed is up to him.
"We want to just see him being welcomed by the group, which we already did," said Klinsmann. "We want him to grow into that group and I think the players will help him tremendously doing that because it's always been a strength of any American team to welcome new players, young players into the group.
“We want to make him feel comfortable and then hopefully we get the opportunity to see him on the field on Wednesday night as well."
Green is taking part in his second U.S. camp, after joining the team before its friendly loss to Ukraine in early March. His experience in that camp helped him commit to the United States rather than Germany, and his new teammates are as eager to see the new kid as U.S. fans are.
"We're excited to have him," said U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley. "Obviously, (he's) a very young player but a guy who has shown even at a young age that he has good starting points and a lot of quality. I think we're all excited to get to know him a little bit in these few days, kind of get the process going of showing him what it's like to be in this team."
While Green is still a bit of an unknown quantity given his lack of professional experience, Yedlin and Gil have pushed their way into the national team conversation on the strength of their improving play in MLS. Gil is entering his third season as a starter for Real Salt Lake, consistently one of the best teams in the league, while Yedlin has started the 2014 season strongly after impressing as a rookie last year.
“It’s really important that we bring the next generation along,” Klinsmann said. “I wish I could bring in a Will Packwood or other kids as well. Both of them, Luis and DeAndre have done well in the January camp. They’re coming along well for their club teams. They still have a way to go, and a lot to learn, and they know that. But I think every day they have with that senior group is a good day. They are like sponges, and they want to move up the ladder.
“We wish to have even more of this generation coming in now. It’s getting a bit tricky because we’re getting closer to the World Cup and we have to kind of zoom in and focus more and more on the 23 that we want to see there.”
Yedlin and Gil have to be considered legitimate candidates to make the World Cup team given their improving quality, and the wide-open nature of the competition at the positions they play. Yedlin has veteran competition for right back, including his own club teammate Brad Evans, while Gil has a multitude of attacking midfield options to contend with, like Mix Diskerud and Sacha Kljestan.
Of the three, Yedlin could get his chance to really impress on Wednesday, with an injury to Evans and the recent news that DaMarcus Beasley and Michael Orozco aren’t being released by club team Puebla for Wednesday’s friendly.
Yedlin has shown marked improvement in his defending early on in the 2014 MLS season, something he credits at least in part to what he learned going through a month-long camp with the U.S. national team in January.
“I still think there’s a lot that I need to improve on defensively, but positioning definitely has gotten a lot better,” Yedlin said. “One of the things that also has helped is Chad Marshall being able to step in and cover for me so I’m able to make the runs I make.”
Yedlin is a confident young player, and one who isn’t afraid to admit that a place on the World Cup team is definitely a goal for him despite being just 20.
“Right now I’m focused on this June, and if I can make a big enough impression to go that’d be great,” Yedlin said. “That’d be an amazing opportunity for me, but I also have to think about the future, because that is ultimately the more realistic World Cup for me to go to.”
It might be a long shot, but Klinsmann has a track record of taking chances on young players. Yedlin and the other young Americans in the current camp should all be considered possibilities to make a late grab for one of the precious 23 World Cup roster spots.
“Anything can happen in the next couple of months. We observe them week in and week out, and we put the puzzle together obviously with what is best for us going into Brazil,” Klinsmann said of the possibility of one of his youngsters making the World Cup team. “We still have the camp coming up as well, which will be more than 23 players obviously, to see a little more of them. Anything is possible in a short period of time in this sport.”