By DAN KARELL
Jurgen Klinsmann has his eyes locked squarely on one goal. A 2015 Gold Cup title and the place in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup that goes with it.
Before the U.S. Men’s National Team can get there, Klinsmann is putting his team through a daunting set of obstacles in Europe prior to the start of the biennial CONCACAF tournament.
Friday marks the beginning of the USMNT’s path to Gold Cup glory, as the U.S. take on the sixth-ranked team in the world, the Netherlands, at the Amsterdam ArenA in Amsterdam.
While the challenge of winning on the road in the Netherlands was asteroid sized in the first place, the odds of a U.S. result decreased with the injury absences of starters such as Jozy Altidore, Jermaine Jones, Alejandro Bedoya, Gregory Garza, and Geoff Cameron, while Clint Dempsey misses out due to the upcoming birth of his fourth child.
With so many regulars missing, it provides a chance for some of the fresher faces to make a name for themselves, with Ventura Alvarado, Juan Agudelo, and Gyasi Zardes all looking to cement a place for themselves in the lineup and squad.
Even with so many big names missing, and the overall goal to get this team prepared to win the World Cup, Klinsmann isn’t losing sight on the immediate goal of picking up a positive result in the Netherlands.
“Expectations are that we get a lot out of these two games because it’s very rare that you can play two nations like Holland and Germany on a trip here, so the learning curve will be huge for us,” the U.S. head coach said at a press conference on Thursday. “Are we coming here to get results? Yes we are. We want to compete with them, we want to give them real games, and we want to see a lot of things from our players, just a couple of weeks away from the Gold Cup opening.
“This is a tremendous opportunity. Opportunities like that, you’ve got to take them right away, and that’s why we’re excited.”
The match against the Netherlands is the latest in a series of friendly matches that Klinsmann has scheduled over the past few years against European opponents.
With somewhat low expectations heading into the 2014 World Cup due to the 2012 European Championship debacle, the Netherlands flew out of the gates with a thrilling 5-1 win over the defending World Cup champion Spain and then went on to defeat Australia and Chile to win their group.
The Netherlands controversially defeated Mexico on a late penalty kick thanks to a suspect call on Arjen Robben, who is not in the current Netherlands squad, and eventually finished in third place after routing Brazil, 3-0, in the third-place match.
Klinsmann once said following a friendly defeat to Belgium that he would rather face a team like Belgium, or say the Netherlands, once, than a CONCACAF minnow 100 times, and even without Robben or playmaking midfielder Wesley Sneijder available for Friday’s game, the U.S. will certainly be faced with a big test.
The USMNT can expect to see some of the best attackers the Netherlands has to offer.
According to a report in De Telegraaf, Netherlands head coach Guus Hiddink has decided to start Robin Van Persie and Klaas Jan-Huntelaar up top, with new Manchester United signing Memphis Depay as a left winger and either Luciano Narsingh or Quincy Promes on the right wing position.
Perhaps luckily for the USMNT, Sneijder isn’t expected to play on Friday after playing for Galatasaray in the Turkish Cup final on Wednesday, with Hiddink saving Sneijder for the Netherlands’ Euro 2016 qualification game next week against Latvia.
Hiddink is also set to start Bruno Martins Indi and Jeffrey Bruma in central defense, Daley Blind in central midfield, Jetro Willems at left back, and then both Daryl Janmaat and Gregory Van der Wiel will each play one half at right back. Goalkeeper Jesper Cillessen is set to start for the Oranje in between the pipes.
“It’s an enormous quality in that team and they can feed from a bench that’s pretty even to who starts,” Klinsmann said. “This is the big advantage of the big soccer powerhouses around the world, that’s it’s not down to the first XI, it’s a deeper pool of players that they can call in. If somebody misses one game, they have another two/three out there that are almost at that level.”
With the U.S. as an underdog in the match, players are using the game as an opportunity to impress the coaching staff and solidify places for themselves on the eventual Gold Cup roster.
“Obviously it’s a huge opportunity with both of these games against top five teams in the world,” USMNT forward Aron Johannsson said. “It’s a huge opportunity for me personally to show that before the gold cup that I should be in that team. I just have to play at my best level and as good as possible to show to coach (Klinsmann) that I should be in the starting XI.”
When asked how many members of the current squad were already earmarked for the Gold Cup team, Klinsmann didn’t answer the question directly. But he did say that a high percentage of the current squad make the 23-man roster for the Gold Cup.
“We don’t know what will happen in the next two, three weeks, but the percentage is very high,” he said.