In the face of a daunting trip to the Azteca, U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann made a bold and calculated choice.
He decided to place his trust in MLS by selecting 10 players from domestic sides for tonight's friendly against Mexico.
This apparently significant leap of faith requires a bit of context. Klinsmann's ideal roster likely wouldn't boast 10 players from the American top flight (or six from Mexico, for that matter). It likely wouldn't even hit half that number. The squad from the World Cup qualifying doubleheader against Antigua & Barbuda and Guatemala included just four domestic-based players and three of the options are best classified as cover.
Designations and preferences tend to shift when several European players aren't available for a variety of club- or transfer-related reasons in the endangered and futile August international window. The absences of Jozy Altidore, Carlos Bocanegra, Michael Bradley, Steve Cherundolo and Clint Dempsey left ample room for others to rise to the fore (and perhaps provide an excuse for a potentially heavy defeat in Mexico City with their inexperience).
In the stead of those seasoned campaigners comes a group of fresh options largely selected for their provincial excellence. For players like Steven Beitashour (San Jose), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City) and Alan Gordon (San Jose), the opportunity of a lifetime includes a potential baptism by fire.
Klinsmann's willingness to throw untested players into this environment remains somewhat uncertain. It is all well and good to bring these players into camp and raise expectations of a rather widespread introduction of new figures, but there is no real need to use many, if any, of them from the outset in a match where several regulars still remain in the mix. The blended composition of the squad allows for gradual integration alongside the likes of Landon Donovan (the most accomplished MLS player, of course), Tim Howard and Jermaine Jones or total ignorance according to Klinsmann's whims.
The reported desire to hand Maurice Edu a starting berth in central defense – a tactic spotted by ESPN's Jeff Carlisle during a U.S. training session in Mexico City on Monday – reinforces the tenuous nature of the balance Klinsmann plans to strike. Edu has played center back occasionally for his country at youth and senior level without fully convincing previous regimes he needed to remain there on a full-time basis. He remains a midfielder by trade, but he could find himself shunted into a spot where his skills may or may not translate over the short-, medium- and long-term to avoid the insertion of a potential first cap (Besler) who regularly performance to a high standard for one of MLS' better sides.
Similar calculations will take place all across the field as Klinsmann ponders the merits of blooding his recent callups or stringing together a lineup filled with more comfortable and comforting faces to preserve the viability of the exercise. Maybe the only domestic involvement will come from regular squad members such as Donovan, Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Brek Shea (FC Dallas) and Chris Wondolowski (San Jose) or perhaps the previously involved Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City) at some point during the 90 minutes. Maybe the final calculus involves some of those players and a small allocation of minutes for one or more of the recent introductions to the pool. Maybe the urge to lean on Mexican-based players against largely Mexican-based foes will prove too strong even if three of the six players based out of Liga MX appear inextricably mired in the category of fringe players.
All of that uncertainty yields to something far more tangible in the final account. If Klinsmann includes Beitashour, Besler or Gordon in his squad and opts to throw one or more of them into the fray, then they must rise to the occasion. In this administration and with these stakes on the line, there remains little room for error for these domestic players – or any of the more established MLS members of the pool aside from Donovan, for that matter – when they emerge onto the scene and state their case for regular inclusion.
These circumstances may constitute more of a learning experience rather than a genuine opportunity to succeed, but they also provide a rare chance to feature with some accomplished figures in a hostile setting against a strong rival. Even a modicum of success would justify Klinsmann's faith. Anything less may just urge the experimental boss toward a more conservative and skeptical path in these types of matters as his reign progresses.
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- Sporting Kansas City
- Mexico City