By FRANCO PANIZO
BOCA Raton, Fla. — Friendlies in these primitive stages of a four-year cycle are normally used for fine-tuning and experimenting, and that is exactly what Jurgen Klinsmann plans to do on Tuesday.
The U.S. Men’s National Team will host CONCACAF foe Honduras in their third friendly since leaving the World Cup in Brazil, and the match at FAU Stadium should be an extension of the first two in that Klinsmann will continue to trot out younger players who may be on the precipice of breaking through to the first team.
Those lesser-experienced players, like Mix Diskerud, DeAndre Yedlin and Greg Garza, have used the last friendly or two to stake their claim to potential starting roles. They did so in last month’s 1-0 road win over the Czech Republic, and again in last Friday’s 1-1 draw with Ecuador.
The new wrinkle is that now they are competing for time with more of the veterans that took part in the World Cup. Klinsmann added five seasoned field players to the roster over the weekend, and now must juggle between giving them their first looks since the tournament in Brazil ended and integrating the next wave of talent in the pipeline.
“It changes certainly a couple of things, but without now going into the starting formation, you want to figure out as a coach how much time can I give each of these guys that game,” said Klinsmann. “The good part of a friendly is that there are six substitutions and that helps because you want to continue to grow the younger generation right now. I spoke to a couple of (the veterans), one on one, and they understand that process.
“It could mean that here and there, they’re left out and that’s fine with them, they understand that. Definitely, we will shake it up a little.”
For Klinsmann, the point of this exercise is to see which players can potentially help in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup and which might still need a little more work. He can also further gauge how the likes of Garza and Diskerud are adapting to bigger roles, and how they mesh with the veterans.
The game will also allow Klinsmann to make some off-the-cuff moves if he wishes, which appears to be the case with midfielder Jermaine Jones.
“Me and the coach were talking, and we have some surprise for everybody,” said Jones. “We talked and maybe you will see me in a new position.”
All the tinkering aside, there is still a game to be played against a Honduras team that also competed in Brazil this summer. The Catrachos are in a transitional phase of their own under new head coach Hernan Medford and coming off a 2-0 loss to Mexico, but still have enough talented and experienced players to make things difficult on the U.S.
From MLS-based players like Boniek Garcia and Victor Bernardez to Hull City’s Maynor Figueroa to Anderlecht youngster Andy Najar, Honduras possesses enough quality to beat the U.S. for the first time since January 2010 and fourth time overall. Still, Klinsmann will have the Americans trying to build on the ways that they dictate the tempo and take the game to the Hondurans.
“You expect a pretty tough matchup. They were obviously in the World Cup, so they’re a good team,” said DeAndre Yedlin. “We want to play our game and make them adjust to that, but we obviously know they have some dangerous players that we need to watch out for.”
Conversely, the U.S. has an array of weapons. Jozy Altidore proved against Ecuador last week that his hold-up play is still very effective even if his confidence in front of goal isn’t at its highest point, captain Clint Dempsey and midfielder ace Michael Bradley are back in the fold, and Yedlin continues to look valuable as a winger out on the right.
Klinsmann also will likely have some skillful veterans on the bench given that he will try and mix in some of next generation of players. Whether it be local Alejandro Bedoya or Graham Zusi or Joe Corona, Klinsmann will not be short on options for which to turn to.
The head coach may even hand a first appearance to Miguel Ibarra, the 24-year-old winger from NASL’s Minnesota United who has spent the past week adjusting to his first U.S. camp and feels much more comfortable now than when he first arrived.
“At the beginning, it was kind of different but now since it’s been a week, I’m kind of used to it already and it’s been amazing,” said Ibarra. “I’ve been keeping up and doing really well. It was the speed, the pace, and the intensity they practice with, so it was hard to get used to.”
This is not the type of luxury that the U.S. typically enjoys, especially when all the top American players across the globe are available for selection at once. But that is why Klinsmann is so keen on giving his youngsters looks next to more established players, to see how they fare and see if they will sink or swim.
“This is now the period of time to do it,” said Klinsmann. “The closer we obviously get then to the Gold Cup, where it’s then a real tournament that hopefully qualifies us for the Confederations Cup, the more you zoom in.”
Expecting to see Jones in central defense? Hoping Ibarra earns his first cap? Looking forward to seeing any young players in particular?
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