The word “team” is a misnomer when describing the United States men’s national soccer team under head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
For decades, fans in America have spoken of the U.S. national team in a literal sense — one in which players establish themselves, form bonds and hierarchies and perform their roles until the coach tells them their time is up.
Under Klinsmann, the U.S. national team has evolved into what many Latin American countries call their national teams: a selection. The best players at any given moment make the team and earn starting positions. It’s their responsibility to stay on it.
Never was this more apparent than Thursday night when Klinsmann announced his final 23-man roster for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
One omission shocked the world: Landon Donovan, the greatest player in U.S. men’s soccer history, will not go to Brazil next month. We’ll dissect the Donovan snub later. For now, let’s focus on those who made the final cut.
Klinsmann’s selection features mainstays who have formed the spine of his teams since he took charge in July 2011 — Tim Howard, Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and captain Clint Dempsey. Klinsmann will build the rest of the team around them.
The three goalkeeper spots have been locked up the longest. Howard starts, Brad Guzan is his backup and Nick Rimando is the third-choice ‘keeper.
Klinsmann included central defenders Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, as expected. They started throughout the final round of qualifying and will fight for minutes with the versatile Geoff Cameron, who appears to be the first option off the bench in the middle.
Cameron also could vie for a starting position at right back and minutes at holding midfield. The North Attleboro, Mass., native will be a key contributor in Brazil. We don’t know exactly where or how he’ll do so at this point.
Center back John Anthony Brooks, 21, is a surprise inclusion, but it’s unlikely that he’ll play much, if at all. The same goes for right back DeAndre Yedlin, 20, who beat out incumbent starter Brad Evans for a spot. Yedlin’s success means Cameron or Tim Chandler likely will start at right back. Yedlin and Chandler have come from further behind any other player in order to win the “race for the roster.”
DaMarcus Beasley and Fabian Johnson are the left backs. One will start, but they’re interchangeable at that spot as both have attacking inclinations.
Jones should see the most of the playing time at holding midfielder, and Kyle Beckerman or Cameron will deputize for the German-American veteran.
Michael Bradley is the most important player on the squad. Bradley controls the tempo of his team’s game, and the U.S. will go as far as he takes it. Alejandro Bedoya and Mix Diskerud can play Bradley’s position if misfortune strikes the midfield general.
Graham Zusi should start on the right side of midfield, while the left-footed Brad Davis surprisingly made the cut. Davis even could be a starter in the wide left position, although it’s more likely that Johnson will beat him out. Bedoya and Diskerud also can play in these areas.
Altidore and Dempsey will lead the attack, as striker and hybrid forward-midfielder, respectively. Aaron Johannsson and Chris Wondolowski are options if Klinmann wants to change the U.S. look, shape or feel going forward.
The wild card is Julian Green, 18, who claimed a roster spot despite his age and inexperience. Green can play a number of attacking positions, although it’s unclear how much Klinsmann is willing to depend on the Bayern Munich prospect.
Since he became the U.S. head coach, Klinsmann repeatedly has said no one is guaranteed a spot on his team. They must earn it, day in and day out. Klinsmann put his words into practice with his U.S. World Cup selection, and the results are jarringly clear.