In theory, the announcement of a World Cup squad should be a fairly joyous occasion for the 23 players selected. But in practice, and especially when a 30-man roster is released before, the focus goes to those left out. They are fewer in number, and the inherent conflict of their exlcusion is easier to write about. When one of those so-called snubs scored the most important goal in your country’s history just four years earlier, well… But there are American soccer players not named Landon Donovan. And they are important too.
Seven of the 23 players on the World Cup Squad are younger than 25. Almost a third. For comparison, hosts Brazil feature just three such players. The same holds true for Argentina. Defending champions Spain have just five. The US squad is fairly young, in other words. And youth brings with it surprise and suspense.
Landon Donovan (and this is the last I’ll refer to him) is not a mystery. He would have been the most-capped player in the tournament, had he gone. But on the other end of the spectrum is Julian Green, who turns 19 in June. His only appearance for the national team was as a substitute in a friendly last month. His club matches, with Bayern Munich’s reserves, aren’t televised. We know nothing about him, other than the presumption based on his age and club that he is good.
Timothy Chandler, like Green was something of a surprise call-up to the U.S. camp. Chandler hasn’t appeared in a match for the U.S. since a loss last February in Honduras. He has on multiple occasions declined call-ups due to injuries and personal matters, and wasn’t included in last year’s Gold Cup squad. This past season, he made just seven appearances for his club side Nürnberg. Yet, here he is.
John Brooks is 21 and playing in the Bundesliga. While Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler proved to be the go-to pairing in central defense during World Cup Qualifying, Klinsmann doesn’t seem to be set on that. Eight defenders made the final 23, leaving only a hazy picture of what the back four will look like in Brazil. Given Gonzalez’s form and health issues, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Brooks next to Besler. Three caps, shmee caps.
All three of these players are German-American, and all three play in Germany. It is easy to look at Klinsmann, who starred for Germany as a player, and say “hey, I notice a trend here.” He also brought in Fabian Johnson, and has been fond of Jermaine Jones. But that’s not the right trend. Klinsmann has been emboldened by a contract that extends through 2018, and so he has formed a squad filled with youth, mystery and risk. Is 20-year-old DeAndre Yedlin ready for this? What can Mix Diskerud provide on the biggest stage? Klinsmann seems determined to find out sooner rather than later.
I am a Klinsmann believer, and while I think planning for the future is smart, I don’t buy the notion that he is preparing for 2018 at the expense of 2014. If that was true, Brad Davis wouldn’t be here. Terrence Boyd would be in Chris Wondolowski’s spot. The new USMNT is young because Klinsmann thinks youth is our best shot in hot and humid Brazil. And if that helps us in the northern latitudes of Russia, all the better.