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Godfrey's Daily Rant

Klinsmann Should Call Up Prospects for Oct. Matches

The two October World Cup qualifiers are mostly meaningless to the U.S., which has already qualified for the 2014 World Cup. But with some strategic roster decisions, these matches could prove very useful.
BY John Godfrey Posted
September 16, 2013
5:19 PM
THE UNITED STATES SOCCER Federation posted an in-house interview with men's national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann earlier today. It's very much in keeping with what we've come to expect from interviews on this owned media channel. Informative. Non-confrontational. Friendly.

You can read the whole thing here, and you should. But for the purpose of today's rant, I want to focus on one specific question and the subsequent answer:

ussoccer.com: With a place in the World Cup already secured, what will your approach be for the final two World Cup Qualifiers?

Jurgen Klinsmann:Definitely for our last two qualifiers against Jamaica and Panama, our approach is six points. We want to win these two games badly, and we are going to bring in the best players. We are going to bring in everyone that is available and finish this qualifying campaign on the highest note possible. It’s been a tremendous year so far in 2013, so we want to finish it off in the right away. Also, we owe that to the fans. Kansas City is sold out. Our fans are coming from so many different places in the United States—in Columbus, fans came from 48 states—so we owe them a real good game. Therefore, everybody that is fit and healthy and belongs in that group will be there.”



I disagree—completely.

I am fully aware that criticizing Klinsmann after he 1) won the 2013 Gold Cup; 2) qualified for the World Cup with two games to spare; and 3) rattled off a 12-game winning streak is a fool's errand, but I don't understand why you would put your best players up against Jamaica and Panama in the October qualifiers.

What does Michael Bradley stand to gain from making the 5,913-mile trip from Rome to Panama City to play against la Marea Roja?

How does it benefit Geoff Cameron to leave his Stoke City teammates in England so he can face off against a Jamaica squad the U.S. has already played three times in the last year?

The Seattle Sounders have matches on October 9, 13, and 19, and if Clint Dempsey—absolutely one of the United States' "best players"—is called in for these two World Cup qualifiers, he is likely to miss all three MLS contests.

Does that make sense?

From a marketing perspective, maybe. From a soccer standpoint, I say it does not.

The October 11 match against Jamaica in Kansas City and the October contest in Panama City present the United States with wonderful—and rare—opportunities to test players under World Cup-like conditions. Jamaica will be fighting for its life on the 11th, knowing that it needs to scrap and claw and do whatever else it takes to stay in the hunt for the fourth CONCACAF World Cup spot. Panama will almost certainly be in a similar position four days later at Estadio Rommel Fernandez. Can it sneak into third place and avoid the playoff against New Zealand? Can it eke out the fourth position and ensure Mexico does not go to Brazil? For both teams, everything is on the line.

Which means Klinsmann will have the perfect opportunity to test how second stringers and others on the fringe of the U.S. national team perform under highly competitive conditions. But only if he chooses to seize it.

Take Brad Guzan, for instance. Was his heroic effort against Mexico on March 26 a fluke, or is he really a tremendous goalkeeper? The ninth and tenth Hexagonal matches would be the perfect opportunity to ask that question. But if Klinsmann is going with his "best players," as he said he would, Guzan will probably be stuck on the bench yet again. So should we expect to see Howard in goal on the 11th and 15th? If so, that would be just bizarre.

And what about Aron Johannsson? Does Klinsmann's policy mean the AZ Alkmaar striker will take a back seat to Eddie Johnson and Jozy Altidore? Will we all miss out on a chance to see if Johannsson can unlock two tough CONCACAF opponents that are playing desperate, determined soccer?

Right back is a problem for the United States national team—I don't think I'm the only person who feels that way—and these October qualifiers present the perfect opportunity to experiment a little. We could see if Timothy Chandler is ready to reclaim his spot. Klinsmann could throw DeAndre Yedlin out there. It would also be a great time to call in Eric Lichaj and see what the speedy, steely Nottingham Forest fullback has to offer.

I can name plenty of other players who are on the periphery of the national team, players who might be able to plug a hole in the current roster and help the United States in Brazil. Luis Gil, for instance. Amobi Okugo. George John. Even Chris Klute.

These qualifiers could also answer some questions about players seeking to reclaim spots they once held. Does Carlos Bocanegra deserve a shot at redemption? Does Danny Wiliiams?

Maybe I'm making too much of Klinsmann's statement. Maybe his comments are mostly about marketing. I hope so.

Because it would be a shame to accomplish so much in one calendar year and then miss out on a golden opportunity to evaluate players under the sort of conditions that are otherwise impossible to replicate.

Who would you like to see playing in the October Hexagonal matches? The A Team? The fringe guys? Name some names below in the Comments section.

John Godfrey is the founder and editor in chief of American Soccer Now.

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