ASN contributing editor Brian Sciaretta gives his thoughts on Jurgen Klinsmann's 21-man roster for Friday's friendly with Ecuador, including his take on the biggest snubs and those with the most to gain.
JURGEN KLINSMANN TODAY
October 06, 2014
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revealed his roster for the upcoming friendly against Ecuador and it contained many young players—and one not-so-young player, Landon Donovan, the most recognizable player in U.S. Soccer history. Here are my thoughts on the roster.
Who has the most at stake?
: Without a doubt John Brooks needs to perform well in training ahead of the October 10 friendly. Ever since his heroic World Cup goal against Ghana, Brooks' career has been in a rut. On the occasions he has gotten the opportunity to play at Hertha, he has been average at best. Last week he was demoted to Hertha’s reserve team and it was the second time his club has publically called him out this year. (The first time involved an oversized tattoo that forced Brooks to miss a game.)
While Brooks played well last month against the Czechs, he will arrive in camp with Klinsmann likely unhappy with his recent developments. If he continues to remain in the doghouse at Hertha and if he doesn’t perform well in the national team camp, he could struggle to earn callups in the future. It is going to be a big week from him to change the narrative.
: Before last month’s game against the Czech Republic, Klinsmann said he wanted to see some players raise their game and embrace a leadership roles within the team. Diskerud did just that with a strong performance in the 1-0 victory. During his nearly 70-minute stint, the U.S. controlled the midfield. That said, there is still a great deal of competition in central midfield on the U.S. national team and Diskerud will have to continue to perform well to earn playing time.
: It was a surprise to see Bobby Wood on the roster for this game given that his playing time at 1860 Munich has decreased sharply. His last goal at the club level came on May 19, 2013. With MLS players like Gyasi Zardes stepping up and with Terrence Boyd and Aron Johannsson returning from injures this fall, it is hard to see Wood getting more callups unless he has an incredible camp. Even uncapped American Andrew Wooten, who also plays in the 2.Bundesliga, is scoring more goals than Wood right now.
: It has been a dismal year for Americans in Europe but Morales has been the most pleasant surprise of the group. Right now, he is one of the leaders on the first place team in the 2.Bundesliga. He is playing very well in the defensive midfield position and he has added real grit to a team that is overachieving. This national team camp is a real opportunity for him. In the past, he has never quite lived up to Klinsmann’s expectations but that is changing now. Now having the confidence that comes with a strong club season, the opportunity is now there to carry over that success to the international game.
What does Ibarra’s call-up mean?
Miguel Ibarra’s call-up was rumored for more than a week and it was confirmed with today's roster announcement. Some have compared it to Jordan Morris’ call-up last month but in reality it is far more surprising.
Some of the best-ever American player have emerged from the college ranks (Clint Dempsey, Stuart Holden, Brian McBride, and Steve Cherundolo being just a few examples). Despite improved MLS academies and other developmental routes, good players will continue to come out of college for the foreseeable future. It is entirely possible that multiple players who are in college right now will be on a U.S. World Cup roster in the future. So with Morris being one of the best college players in the country, it is not outlandish to rate him highly, it is only a surprise in how early in his career the call-up came.
Calling up an NASL player is completely different. Many NASL players are in that league likely because they were evaluated and passed over by MLS clubs. This was the case with Ibarra, who was cut by Portland in 2012. To Ibarra’s credit, he has performed extraordinarily well in the second-tier league and he has done so in a wing position—a position of need within the national team.
Snubs: Who missed out?
As with any roster, it is worth examining who missed out and why. Since many MLS players were intentionally not called-up due to the playoff race, I’ll limit this list to overseas-based players who are also not on the current U-23 roster.
: Wooten is likely the biggest snub. At 25 years old and with his only U.S appearances coming during U-23 camps in 2011, Wooten would seem like a strong candidate to get his first international cap. he is impressing this year at Sandhausen, a small 2.Bundesliga club, scoring four goals this past month alone. If all the best American forwards were available, Wooten would not get a call-up. But it is very hard to make a case that fellow 2.Bundesliga forward Bobby Wood is more deserving than Wooten.
: Castillo has been given multiple opportunities with the national team and has never fully worked his way into Klinsmann’s plans. As a result, it looks like Klinsmann has moved on in the left back position where he now favors DaMarcus Beasley, Timothy Chandler, and Gregory Garza. That being said, Castillo’s play for Atlas in Mexico has been terrific and he has helped the team move into second place in Liga Mx. If he continues to play well, he might get another look.
: Nottingham Forest is currently in second place of the Championship and Lichaj has played in 10 of the 11 games so far this season. He has been called up to the national team just once since Klinsmann was hired in 2011. Klinsmann knows Lichaj but it is probably a case of the German coach simply not rating him highly. If Nottingham Forest win promotion this year, could Lichaj earn another look? It's possible. There are players who have forced their way onto the team before.
: The speedy Tijuana forward on the brink of becoming a regular again with the Xolos is still just a teenager and part of the U.S. U-20 team. He will get his chance eventually but if Klinsmann is giving a look to Miguel Ibarra, who will likely play on the right wing, he likely passed over Arriola who is still one of the more promising young players in the American system.
Saying Goodbye to Landon Donovan
Everyone knows that Friday night’s game against Ecuador will be the final time Landon Donovan plays for the United States national team. His accomplishments are so long it is hard to wrap your mind around them. He has 58 career assists, 57 goals, 156 caps, a World Cup quarterfinals appearance, an Olympics semifinals, a Confederations Cup finals, multiple Gold Cup titles, and he was a consistent thorn in the side of arch rival Mexico. Donovan came along into the national team following the disaster of France 1998 and helped lift the national team’s relevance at time when it was sorely needed.
Think about this: without Donovan, the U.S. likely goes from 1994-2014 without advancing from group play at the World Cup. Would the sport be as popular in the United States as it is right now if the national team continued to fall flat for 20 years at the World Cup? Does MLS survive if the national team routinely underachieved on the biggest stage?
There might be a player in the future who surpasses Donovan’s accomplishments on the international stage. But no one will ever take away the importance and influence he had in laying the foundation for the sport’s relevance in the United States. If soccer one day is universally considered a top sport in this country, Donovan will have played a major role in making it so.
So if it is at all possible for you to make the trip to East Hartford, Conn., this Friday to see Donovan play one last time for the U.S. team, go.
Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.