Jurgen Klinsmann has the envy of all but one CONCACAF manager heading into October. He has the freedom to explore as many options as he would like in games that are supposed to be played with no margin for error.
The USA has already qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup with two matches to spare, so the USA manager can afford to tinker, take some risks, and experiment with his lineup and player pool with little to no repercussions.
Of course, he won't say that up front, and he might not even act accordingly. In his most recent comments, Klinsmann said he will treat the final two qualifiers as if they are business as usual. Between caring for the integrity of the competition – the USA's results could directly impact the World Cup fortunes of Honduras, Panama and rival Mexico – and being true to the fans who will be showing up, Klinsmann claims that he will be calling on his top charges with qualification already in tow.
“Definitely for our last two qualifiers against Jamaica and Panama, our approach is six points," Klinsmann told U.S. Soccer's official website Monday. "We want to win these two games badly, and we are going to bring in the best players. We are going to bring in everyone that is available and finish this qualifying campaign on the highest note possible. It’s been a tremendous year so far in 2013, so we want to finish it off in the right away.
"Also, we owe that to the fans. Kansas City is sold out. Our fans are coming from so many different places in the United States – in Columbus, fans came from 48 states – so we owe them a real good game. Therefore, everybody that is fit and healthy and belongs in that group will be there.”
There is still work to be done in shaping the roster for Brazil, though, and Klinsmann would be wise to survey his myriad of options instead of turning a blind eye and jumping to the one conclusion of continuing to call upon his core group. Certainly, there are benefits to doing so should he chose to go that route. There are only so many competitive opportunities on international fixture dates to cultivate more cohesiveness among his top unit prior to next summer in Brazil. But there are also benefits to looking in a couple of different directions while still fielding a competitive side.
By passing on bringing in some of the usual top talent that competes on the club level in Europe, Klinsmann could lighten the travel load on veteran players whose places should be secure while also accruing some goodwill from club coaches. With the MLS season set to be in its final weeks, players vital to the playoff push could be left off the roster to ensure the league's season does not require an asterisk because of poorly-timed international absences.
Klinsmann also has the freedom to cap-tie players without having to worry about a risk of not qualifying. For someone like Hertha Berlin center back John Brooks, an appearance in an October qualifier would not only be a meaningful international experience, but it would officially lock in a potential rock at the position for years to come and eliminate any shred of doubt.
The full back pool is still remarkably thin, no matter how much Klinsmann praises those who have rotated into the left and right back positions, and he can call in those who have not been part of the qualifying cycle – such as Nottingham Forest's Eric Lichaj or Seattle Sounders and U.S. U-20 right back DeAndre Yedlin – just to get a look and be even more diligent about his options. Even forgotten man Timmy Chandler, who has not appeared in a U.S. camp since a forgettable performance in Honduras in the Hexagonal opener, could win his way back into Klinsmann's good favor by making the trek and showing well.
Klinsmann's exploration of the player pool has already been extensive and well documented, and he already has a large nucleus of players who have earned his trust, but even he says the exploration is not yet complete. Given the low-stakes nature of the upcoming qualifiers and November friendlies, the games and preceding camps can act almost as a higher-profile, higher-stakes January camp.
“Competition is an ongoing, never-ending topic in our environment," Klinsmann said. "We want to challenge everyone. The starting guys need to feel there is a guy behind that wants to take his spot away, and even that guy is challenged by another guy. We want to go deeper and deeper into our pool to find more players and more competition. This race will go on until May 2014 and a month prior to the World Cup, and then we have to narrow it down and at the end of the day name the 23-player roster going to Brazil.
"This is a process that will go on during our games, and also while they are at their clubs. We observe week-in and week-out all the players, no matter if they are in Mexico, Europe and MLS. We get the feedback from their coaches. This competition is really just starting now.”
If that is indeed the case, then Klinsmann will stray from the norm a bit when he assembles his next team, taking advantage of the opportunity afforded to him and the situation that most international coaches would yearn to be facing.
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