Photo by Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports
By DAN KARELL
With the 2014 World Cup firmly in the rearview mirror, U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is now focused on a new challenge as he integrates new recruits into his squad.
For the second consecutive international window, Klinsmann has selected a mixture of experience and burgeoning youth to his USMNT squad. Ahead of the USA’s match against Ecuador on Friday, youngsters Miguel Ibarra, Joe Gyau, Julian Green, Bobby Wood, Luis Gil, Greg Garza, and DeAndre Yedlin have all been called into the U.S. squad, where they’ll team up with veterans such as Landon Donovan, Nick Rimando, and Alejandro Bedoya.
Klinsmann’s selection decisions clearly follow a path towards the future, with 18-year-olds Rubio Rubin and Emerson Hyndman joining the squad for their September camp in Europe as well as 19-year-old Stanford forward Jordan Morris. The selections are all part of Klinsmann’s work to mix in some fresh blood into a team that is aging at a number of positions.
“For us it’s exciting to start a new cycle with many big competitions coming up on the horizon,” Klinsmann told USSoccer.com “We have the Gold Cup next year, the Olympics in 2016 which we have a huge focus on, the Copa America in the United States in 2016, in 2017 the Confederations Cup if we do our job, and then the World Cup in 2018 in Russia. Now it’s our job to connect the different age groups and make the younger ones understand that time will fly by and you must take advantage of the opportunity and not waste it.”
A number of the younger players in the USMNT player pool have taken to heart Klinsmann’s comments and confidence in them, and have taken their play to new levels.
Gyau recently made his first-team debut for Borussia Dortmund in a 2-2 draw against Stuttgart, while last Saturday, Rubin set up two goals for FC Utrecht in a 3-2 defeat to Go Ahead Eagles.
Hyndman, Rubin, Morris, and Cody Cropper were all called into a U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team camp in Brasilia, Brazil instead of returning to the senior national team, but Klinsmann warned the senior hierarchy that he’s not afraid to call in youngsters if the veterans aren’t performing as well as they should.
“I think it’s becoming very clear to everyone involved that the senior team, the U-23’s, and even the U-20 team that goes to the World Cup in 2015 are all connected,” Klinsmann said. “The coaches are connected, and the players are getting moved between the groups. A U-20 player now understands that if he does extremely well, there might be a chance to bypass people and show up in the senior team.”
While the spotlight will surely rest on Donovan in the lead-up to and during the match against Ecuador, the surprise call-up of Ibarra has drawn plenty of media interest.
Ibarra is the first player to ever be called up to the USMNT from the current iteration of the North American Soccer League, and the first player since Clyde Simms in 2005, when he was with the Richmond Kickers, to be called up from one of the lower divisions.
Although Ibarra may have been a late bloomer, having been drafted but cut by the Portland Timbers in 2012, Klinsmann likes what he sees in the California native.
“First of all, a call up to the Senior National Team is something very special,” Klinsmann said. “When we do that, we have the feeling that the player deserves it because of certain elements he brings to the table. Miguel in his game is maybe a bit of a late bloomer coming now through the NASL system, but he has done tremendously well there the whole season.
“We watched him and a couple other players in the league, and they might go a different path than coming through MLS, Europe or Mexico, but he’s a good example that there are different ways to get all the way to the top. He knows he has to prove it now: he has tremendous skill, he has speed, he has an engine, he can take people on, and he keeps everyone on their toes.”
Although the LA Galaxy don’t play again until Sunday, Klinsmann noted that Donovan wouldn’t be arriving in East Hartford until Thursday, keeping the media distractions on the team to a minimum until he arrives. Following the match against Ecuador, Klinsmann also hinted that he’ll likely make a number of changes, with MLS veterans replacing the European-based youngsters.
“For us it’s always important to mix things up,” Klinsmann stated. “For this first game we are mixing things up with MLS players and with players that are coming from overseas but they are not as established yet as we would like them to be, so maybe we let a few ones go after the Friday game back to Europe so they have a whole week of preparation for the next game, bring in some MLS players to fill in the blanks, and continue to grow this culture of competition and also of accountability.”