As American players began trickling back across the Atlantic and returning to Major League Soccer this winter, there started to be a real concern among U.S. national team fans about the seemingly diminishing American presence in Europe and what it could mean for the USA.
That concern was a bit premature because as much as there were a good number of U.S. pool players to return to MLS during the January transfer window, we have also seen several Americans take up stronger positions in Europe now than they held before.
Juan Agudelo opened his scoring account with Dutch side FC Utrecht on Thursday, less than a week after delivering a game-tying assist against Ajax. Oguchi Onyewu has settled in as a starter for League Championship side Sheffield Wednesday, helping the club climb away from the relegation zone. Brek Shea has found success in a temporary home in the same league, settling in well at Barnsley.
As much as having Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley leave Europe in the past six months is a big blow in terms of losing two of the most established and respected Americans plying their trades in Europe, the landscape oversees isn’t exactly barren of Americans.
We will have a chance to see just how the pool of current European-based Americans is looking on March 5, when the U.S. takes on Ukraine. With the 2014 MLS season kicking off just three days later, Klinsmann has already gone on record as saying his roster for the March friendly would consist of European-based players. With Liga MX-based players expected to be a part of the rumored April friendly against Mexico, we aren’t likely to see them against Ukraine either.
So what sort of team can Klinsmann put together to face Ukraine without his large collection of MLS-based contributors? It is a more promising group than you might imagine, and a team filled with several players who have earned the chance to impress, and potentially play their way back into the World Cup mix after looking like extreme long shots.
Here is a look at the group we could see called up to take on Ukraine:
Tim Howard, Brad Guzan
The two top American goalkeepers are easy calls to make, and having Howard in goal is a must considering the likelihood Klinsmann will be field a makeshift defense. The real question is whether Klinsmann might call in a third goalkeeper. Southampton reserve goalkeeper and former U.S. youth international Cody Cropper could merit a look.
Geoff Cameron, Tim Chandler, Eric Lichaj, Oguchi Onyewu, Tim Ream, John Brooks, Fabian Johnson
Chandler has not been in a U.S. uniform in a year, since the World Cup qualifying loss to Honduras in February of 2013. Injuries, bad form, and what some perceive to be Chandler’s aloofness toward the national team have been given as reasons for Chandler’s long absence. But Chandler is playing well for Bundesliga side Nurnberg and the U.S. badly needs fullback help. With Chandler capable of playing right back and left back, it would be pretty shocking if he weren’t called in to face Ukraine.
Brooks has been sidelined by a knee injury, and only returned to training this week. If he can stay healthy, he will get a look from Klinsmann, and potentially a start.