Photo by Michael Janosz/ISIphotos.com
GLENDALE, Ariz. — The MLS-based U.S. Men’s National Team players will have one last chance to impress Jurgen Klinsmann in an up-close-and-personal setting on Wednesday, and what a stage it will be.
The U.S. is set for its final tune-up ahead of the selection of next month’s preliminary World Cup roster with a game against bitter rivals Mexico at University of Phoenix Stadium on Wednesday night (11 p.m. ET, ESPN/UniMas), and it should provide ample opportunity for the American players to state their cases. Much has been made in recent weeks about the potential debut of teenage sensation Julian Green, but the reality is that this friendly can serve as a chance for many players to boost their stocks against a very talented foe that will likely have the majority of the fan support.
From youngsters like Green and DeAndre Yedlin to experienced veterans like Maurice Edu and Kyle Beckerman, there is plenty to play for against El Tri in an atmosphere that likely will not be seen again until the ball gets rolling at the World Cup.
“It’s helpful to have a real game,” said Landon Donovan. “It’s going to be a game probably similar to what we can see in Brazil with a big stadium, a big crowd, big stakes, a lot on the line, and we feel like this is an opportunity to take a step forward in the right direction and make the most of it.”
While there is no denying that this game can help individuals improve their standings in Klinsmann’s much-analyzed depth chart, the Americans are out for a strong performance as a team. Playing Mexico always holds special significance and that is especially true for this friendly given that both sides have players attempting to convince they are deserving of a spot for Brazil.
El Tri might be missing ace striker Oribe Peralta, but still have plenty of talented players and will be led by veteran captain Rafa Marquez.
“They’re a very dangerous team,” said Graham Zusi, who scored the goal last year that saved Mexico from being eliminated in World Cup qualifying. “I think they didn’t have the 2013 that they would’ve liked to have, but in the past few games they’ve really improved and they’re always a dangerous team.”
The friendly will serve as a chance for several fringe U.S. players to state their cases, but it will also give Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley the opportunity to play alongside one another. The three players who have for a long time served as integral parts to the American cause have not been on the field together since a qualifier in Guatemala on June 12, 2012.
Bradley said earlier this week that it has not felt that long, but the trio knows that this is a good opportunity against some good opposition to get back on the same page.
“We’re excited. It was nice to get back on the field with both of them in training this week,” said Donovan. “We don’t have a lot of time, but it’s been nice and I think for all of us the end of the tunnel is near. You can see the light and you can see Brazil in the forefront, so we’re excited about it. One last chance to show Jurgen up close what we’re about and we’re going to make the most of it.”
Two positions that likely will be looked at closely on Wednesday night are center back and right back. The former has been locked down for the past year by Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, but the two have not gotten off to the best of starts in the MLS season. That could open the door for someone like Clarence Goodson to impress, but Klinsmann may not want to alter things too much given his fullback situation.
With Puebla denying DaMarcus Beasley’s release to join the U.S. roster and Brad Evans suffering an injury, Klinsmann is without his top choices at both outside spots in the defense. Yedlin, Michael Parkhurst and Tony Beltran are the main candidates to fill those places, and they know that a strong outing against El Tri could be very helpful in boosting their stock ahead of the start of the U.S.’s pre-World Cup camp in mid-May.
“I feel good that I’m here and have this opportunity, that’s for sure,” said Parkhurst. “I want to take advantage of this opportunity (Wednesday) night if I play from the beginning or if I get in there as a sub. I want to take advantage of every minute I can get because good performances from here will go a long way.”
Klinsmann said Tuesday that how his players do against Mexico will not make or break their chances, but that still doesn’t take away from the fact that they can seriously boost their chances of making the World Cup roster with strong showings.
The U.S. players are all too aware of that and they will try to make one final good impression against Mexico.
“We don’t talk about it between the guys but everybody knows it,” said Parkhurst. “The opportunities are dwindling. This is it. This is the time you have to play. You have to play well in order to be on that plane to Brazil.”