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Direct from Houston

It's Moving Day for United States Team Hopefuls

Stars and Stripes manager Jurgen Klinsmann is giving the 23 players in camp a massive opportunity to impress, Josh Deaver reports from Houston. Who is poised to take advantage?

BY Josh Deaver Posted
January 29, 2013
4:43 AM
HOUSTON, Texas—For United States men’s national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann no roster spots are sacred.

He frequently returned to this idea during his comments to the media the day before the Americans take on Canada in a friendly. The manager wants to focus on the depth of the player pool and his intent to promote a culture of competition for the limited amount of available roster spots. World Cup qualifying begins on February 6th in Honduras, and Klinsmann says January's “preparation camp” provides an opportunity to evaluate a new group of players who could potentially challenge the team’s incumbent starters or step in case of injury during the Hex. Although he did not name any members of the 23-man camp specifically, he indicated that some established themselves during the three-week training stint in Southern California.

“The starting XI [for Tuesday’s match] are a notch ahead of the other guys and already have defined a little bit of a ranking from the group in camp. We will see that in the lineup and how we look at things,” Klinsmann said.

During the team’s public training session on Monday night at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, a few players clearly distinguished themselves above the rest. The squad took turns competing in 8v8 short sided matches, emphasizing counter attacks and close-quarter physical battles. The center back duo of Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler especially excelled in the exercise. They should start against the Maple Leafs.

The chance to break into the full squad is not lost on Besler, who is seeking his first appearance for the National Team. “I realize there is a great opportunity at my position right now,” the Sporting KC defender said. “At the end of the day we are all competing for spots on the team. I never want to cheer for injuries but fact is, at the moment there are openings.”

Aside from Besler and Gonzalez, however, there is less clarity about who will feature on Tuesday night for the Yanks. Standouts like Graham Zusi and Juan Agudelo will likely be involved, but the constantly rotating sides during Monday’s training gave little clear indication of who would be favored. What was apparent though is that Klinsmann and staff have cultivated a strong foundation of players ready to challenge for first team spots in the future.

“Now we have a much broader vision and we have a much better understanding of how many players we have that we can bring to the international level. Our pool is getting deeper and is getting more competitive, too. These players are knocking at the door strongly. They want to steal somebody else’s spot and have gotten a sense for how this fight really works,” Klinsmann said. “If you want to get to the next level you’ve got to kick somebody out.”

Also apparent on Monday was the influence of a strong veteran presence within the squad. Collectively, Kyle Beckerman, Brad Davis, and Chris Wondolowski were the clear on-field leaders. The trio is embracing the challenge of leading players who are up to a decade younger. During a series of one touch passing drills, Davis and Beckerman specifically were constantly pushing the pace and upping the intensity, often running harder than there younger counterparts. Speaking to the media beforehand, Klinsmann emphasized the invaluable role of both within the team.

"It's important that the more experienced players such as a Kyle Beckerman, a Brad Davis and others are helping the younger ones when they come in. They make them understand what it takes to be a real professional and guide them,” Klinsmann said, adding, “This is what a national team program is about. You want the experienced guys to step it up [and] take more responsibility.”

Fellow veteran Chris Wondolowski, celebrating his 30th birthday on Monday night, is taking his opportunity in stride. When asked about needing the “one goal” that has eluded him since his infamous missed tap-in during the 2011 Gold Cup, Wondolowski seemed unaffected: “Honestly, I kind of feel like I’m playing with house money right now. At times I wasn’t sure if I was going to get this, I'm just loving it right now."

As for his birthday celebration, “A win, that’s the only thing on the docket.”

NOTES and OBSERVATIONS:
  • The shortest member of the national team, 5’7” New York Red Bulls rookie Connor Lade, looked good on Monday night. Playing as an outside back on both sides, he was sharp in recovery and provided some dangerous crosses.

  • Mix Diskerud appeared skilled but physically overmatched during some of the short-sided matches. Clearly Klinsmann is seeing the same thing, recently challenging the Rosenborg midfielder publicly to engage in more on-field battles.

  • While it was difficult to assess, hometown hero Tally Hall appeared to be the first taking reps during goalkeeping drills. He made several impressive saves during the hour-plus session and could receive his first cap against Canada.

  • San Jose Earthquakes left back Justin Morrow delivered several picture perfect crosses during training, two of which were converted for goals by Eddie Johnson and Juan Agudelo, respectively.

  • The communication between the team was excellent, with Sean Johnson, Brad Evans, and Omar Gonzalez among the most vocal of the group.

  • Will Bruin, who received the biggest ovation when the squad was announced to the stadium, looked sharp in finishing drills at the end of training, burying several shots from the top of the 18 against a rotating goalkeeping corps.

    Josh Deaver is covering the U.S.-Canada match for ASN. Follow the former academic turned soccer obsessive on Twitter, @USFootballGuy.
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