Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

As the World Cup nears, USMNT searching for answers

Kyle BeckermanIt’s time to get to work for the U.S. Men’s National Team, as training is underway at Stanford University as Jurgen Klinsmann starts his final preparation for the team he will take to Brazil this summer for the 2014 World Cup.

Klinsmann has until June 2 to select the 23 players who will make up the American team that will take the pitch against Ghana on June 16 in the opening match of group play.

And with just nine players in camp who were on the World Cup team in 2010, Klinsmann needs to figure out if he can hold a spot for an experienced player who knows the demands of the World Cup but may be on the downside of their career, Landon Donovan, for example; or should he rely on some talented new blood that may or may not be ready for the pressure of facing Ghana, Portugal and Germany? (Julian Green).

“One thing I can definitely say is that (Klinsmann) has been honest and he’s told us how he’s going to coach. Everyone has had an opportunity to come in and show him at some certain point why they belong with this team,” winger Brad Davis told soccerbyives.com. “He’s been honest about how he’s going to choose the team — it doesn’t matter where you come from. It’s given everybody an even playing field.

“It gives you that extra bit of incentive. You have a real opportunity to make this team.”

It really wouldn’t be a surprise if Donovan was left of the roster. He hasn’t scored this season for the L.A. Galaxy and the national team easily moved on when he took a leave of absence last year during qualifying.

“Since he took his break, I simply told him, ‘If you take a break like that, then you have to fight your way back into the picture and you have to confirm it week in, week out with performances for your club team and also with the national team. I’m straightforward with him every time that I see him,” Klinsmann said in published reports. “With all the appreciation and admiration for what he’s done throughout his career, which is extraordinary and deserves the compliments that he gets, soccer is about what happens today. What you do today and what you hopefully do tomorrow.

“We’re not building the group based on the past. We’re building the group based on what we experience and go through together and what we believe is the right decision.”

Speaking of MLS players, we caught the first episode of ESPN’s Inside: U.S. Soccer’s March to Brazil over the weekend and it is clear that the decision by team captain Clint Dempsey and midfielder Michael Bradley to play domestically this year instead of in the top leagues in Europe doesn’t sit well with Klinsmann.

“From a purely soccer perspective, (Dempsey’s decision) is difficult to take because for the national team environment you want your best players to play the best teams in the world and they are in Europe,” Klinsmann said on the program. “If he played for Barcelona it would make it easier for me to know that he is used to playing against Xavi, (Andrés) Iniesta or Christiano Ronaldo, as those are the kind of players will we be seeing this summer.

“Michael Bradley could be a player for Real Madrid, Manchester United, Bayern Munich or FC Barcelona – I have no doubt about that. But the drive of that process can only come from Michael Bradley.”

Hopefully the tradeoff of playing against inferior competition will be that Dempsey and Bradley are not as worn down as they would be if they had spent the season in Europe.

Another player to keep an eye on is Jozy Altidore, who had a disappointing season with Sunderland in the Premier League, scoring just two goals in 38 games. (Which raises the question: if you play in a top league but don’t do well, is it still beneficial?)

When Altidore is on his game he can be a force – he has 21 goals with the national team and during qualifying last year became the first American to score in five consecutive international matches. If he can pull it together this summer, he could become the first U.S. forward to score a World Cup goal since Brian McBride in 2002.

“Jozy is still a very young player and he is going into his learning curve. We have worked with him now over the last three years, and he’s gone from a much younger player into a more mature player, playing very good games for us and scoring important goals for us,” Klinsmann said. “Still, we see Jozy in his development phase. Jozy is not built yet. Jozy has not reached his potential yet. Our job, as coaches, is to help him reach his highest potential. I think the next two months will be a big part of that next learning curve for Jozy Altidore.”

The U.S. team has played some of its best soccer under Klinsmann, but this summer is when it matters. Qualifying for the World Cup is nice (and it is nice to be able to essentially take it for granted that the U.S. will be there) but Klinsmann wasn’t hired to qualify – he is here to win games and advance to the knockout stage this summer, at the very least.

Right now the team has questions, but Klinsmann is smart enough to find the answers.

We just hope he can do it before the match against Ghana kicks off in a little less than a month.

(Photo courtesy of U.S. Soccer)

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