By Nick Iuele
Last night, the U.S. Men’s National Team was held in a toothless, scoreless draw against a young Canada side. USMNT boss Jurgen Klinsmann brought a MLS-heavy “B” side into the annual January camp to see how he would round out his “A” squad for the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers. However, the selection process has me scratching my head.
One problem that I have seen with many fans, and journalists, for that matter, is an overly optimistic view of the Major League Soccer players in reference to the national team. We all want to believe that our league will produce national team stars, but the truth is we are not there yet for the most part. Sure, I loved seeing Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy) in there; if not for injury last season, he would have been with the national team a lot sooner. Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire) is a good ‘keeper prospect, and I think Juan Agudelo (Chivas USA) has tremendous upside.
That being said, some of the selections and omissions have me wondering what exactly Klinsmann is trying to do with this “B” side camp. First and foremost, Klinsmann needs to stop selecting Chris Wondolowski immediately. The guy fills it up in MLS, but can’t hack it on an international level. Period. He wasted precious minutes that could have been given to Agudelo from the opening whistle. I don’t necessarily have a problem with Eddie Johnson, but it would have been nice to see Agudelo and Will Bruin (Houston Dynamo) get some more playing time.
My next issue is the selection of Alejandro Bedoya. Why is it that a guy who is without a club gets selected but Brek Shea, a player that can truly be great for the U.S. with some more polishing, is left out. I understand Shea did not have the best season last year, but he is still a talent that should have gotten a call up to the “B” side at least. You could use the excuse that he was in club limbo between FC Dallas and Stoke City, but Bedoya’s situation is worse in my opinion. If you really want to see where the future is, you have to bring in guys like Shea to give him confidence. Bedoya is not the answer to any problems in the midfield the USMNT may have, but Shea could be. I don’t know what the rift is between Shea and Klinsmann, but both parties would do well to settle it.
I also don’t understand why Mixx Diskerud did not dress, but Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders) and Brad Davis (Dynamo) both were in the side. As far as general midfield is concerned, Diskerud is considered one of the better young players in the U.S. pool. Again, we need to start seeing who is actually going to help the future of the national team. Davis and Evans have both played well in MLS and should be commended for it, but the chance that they can perform in the same manner on the international level is highly doubtful. I can’t blame Klinsmann too much for his selections outside of Gonzalez in the back, for the “A” squad has the best defensive players we have and the pool is severely lacking beyond that.
My last real issue is one that many people will disagree with: the over-hyping of Graham Zusi. Don’t get me wrong; I do not question his selection to the USMNT: he is a creative player that deserves the call up. But many have this view that Zusi is “The Answer” and I just don’t see it. He didn’t look so spectacular against an average-at-best Canada side last night, so what makes me think he can handle the bigger stage? Sure, he has better players to work with in the “A” side, which he will almost certainly be a part of, but I just don’t see Zusi lighting it up against the best national teams in the world in the 2014 World Cup.
We have to have faith in our MLS players because they are a hope for the future, but unfortunately the better USMNT players play in Europe and it makes a huge difference. That’s why guys like Geoff Cameron and Shea moving to Europe was the best thing for them. Save Landon Donovan, who could have left MLS if he wanted to, it’s hard to name an extraordinary player on the “A” USMNT that currently plies his trade domestically. Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman has proved me wrong about being important to the national team because at this point I’d rather see him there than Maurice Edu, but he still is not on the level of a Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Steve Cherundolo, or Michael Bradley in their respective positions.
This is not a hit out on MLS. I happen to like the league and think it is on the rise. However, I believe Klinsmann should use these kinds of camps to see who will best suit the national team in the future. It is nice to reward the players who played well domestically, but that does not necessarily benefit the future of the program. A fault of many fans and journalists is that they compare a player’s level of play in MLS to how they will actually compete against the best teams in the world. Guys like Zusi can get it done in our league, but how will he play against the likes of Germany, Spain and Holland? I don’t know for sure how Shea will play against those teams, but I do know that he has a skill and excitement factor that suggests, with a little maturity, he can be a game changer. These are the types of players we need to have in the “B” side at least.
I judge a player on how he can, now or eventually, compete against the best in the world, as other countries do. It seems like fans of the USMNT need to open their eyes a bit and look at what is going to bring the side closer to a World Cup victory. Klinsmann has his main side, but the job of a manager is to keep the present in front of him, with the future still in sight. It’s about time Klinsmann started saving feelings and doing what’s best for the future of the program.
It’s one thing to deal with a less talented player pool than the best countries in the world, but it’s another to not cultivate the talent we do have for the future.