Klinsmann's roster reflects a practical approach

Posted by Jason Davis

If we're being honest with ourselves, it's a little difficult to find much wrong with Jurgen Klinsmann's roster for the first CONCACAF World Cup qualifying hexagonal match Wednesday afternoon in Honduras.

Headed into a hostile environment to start a campaign with a team that doesn't possess ample amounts of punch regardless of its makeup, Klinsmann is relying on veterans with experience playing in Central America. Youth won't be served by a trip to the cauldron of San Pedro Sula, or so it appears Klinsmann believes. It’s the known over the unknown, experience over exuberance, and grit over glamor, up and down Klinsmann's hand-picked roster.

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That means the obvious choices are there. Bradley, Dempsey, Altidore (back in Klinsmann’s good graces after being banished for a time due to lack of, for lack of a better word, “running”), Bocanegra, Howard make up the most veteran names in the roster. That core group are the holdovers from the last qualifying cycle, minus Landon Donovan, players who know what they’re getting themselves into when they step on the field to face Los Catrachos.

The only question among them might be Carlos Bocanegra, but he remains the team's captain and outward leader. Bocanegra is playing in Spain's second division, but he is playing regularly, something that can’t be said for his former partner Oguchi Onyewu in La Liga with Malaga. Centerback depth is one of the team’s larger concerns, and with the rest of the group being so green, Bocanegra's call-up makes sense.

The green among the defensive call-ups includes Omar Gonzalez, the presumed future of the American central defense; Matt Besler, 2012 MLS defender of the year and another promising option; and Geoff Cameron, Stoke City’s do-it-all man, a player who has come on so quickly it's easy to think of him as already established in the USMNT setup. He has all of five caps.

Fabian Johnson and Timmy Chandler are the obvious choices at fullback with Michael Parkhurst, Edgar Castillo, and Brad Evans in for cover. The German-Americans are green when it comes to CONCACAF qualifying as well, but the pool is bereft of experienced players there with Steve Cherundolo out injured. Chandler committing himself to the U.S. cause is good news; he's a lock to play to finally cap tie him to the Americans.

Leaning on experience means Maurice Edu gets a call up in midfield over young, more attacking players such as Mikkel Diskerud and Josh Gatt. Edu is now getting meaningful minutes with Bursaspor in Turkey, a key to him regaining his spot in the team. He too has experience playing in CONCACAF, and possesses the athletic, disruptive game that Klinsmann has come to prefer of his midfielders. Klinsmann has traded width (there’s not one natural wide midfielder in the bunch) for grit. Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones fit the same mold. Grit in spades.

Further grit comes from Sacha Kljestan and Danny Williams. The latter is the more defensive, but Kljestan’s return to the U.S. 'A' team coincides with his full transformation into a box-to-box midfielder with Anderlecht in Belgium, less an offense-first player than a tireless worker and efficient passer. Williams is struggling for time in Germany, but has already established himself as a fixture in the midfield picture.

Klinsmann is consistent in his reliance on the German-American contingent with first team Bundesliga jobs. How much of that reliance is merited will be put to the test Wednesday.

Jose Torres returns to the national team yet again, despite multiple (mostly unsuccessful) chances to prove his worthiness of a spot in the team. Torres' club play and step up the Mexican ladder (from Pachuca to Tigres) convinced Klinsmann to bring him in again.

Again, if there’s a player who it could be argued deserved this spot more, it's probably Diskerud or Gatt (neither of whom have Torres' club resume).

Maybe it’s not ironic that the two most forward-thinking choices among the midfielders are MLS players, but it does seem odd considering the European origin of so much of the team. Graham Zusi has benefited from the absence of Donovan and is among the better set-piece takers in the squad.

Brad Davis is the best set-piece taker in the squad, but arrives to the full national team late in his career. Davis has “earned” a shot according to Klinsmann based on his January camp performance, but questions about the speed of play at the international level dog him. In a pinch, Davis is good to have around, particularly because he is so dangerous with his left foot.

The forward group of Dempsey, Altidore, Gomez, and Johnson is made up of the four most dangerous/in-form front line players available. If there are goals to be had, this is the group to score them. Terrence Boyd is an exciting player, but he's not better than any of Klinsmann’s choices. Any disagreement with Klinsmann here is a matter of personal preference, not quality. Johnson could be deployed on the wing as he was to good effect in the last qualifying round.

This team is narrow. It's overly defensive, something that makes some sense considering the location of the game and the importance of getting something out of it. It’s a conservative roster that also happens to represent the best group of players available at the moment. Is Honduras the place to experiment, to toss an exciting but potentially overmatched player like Diskerud or Gatt into the mix?

Klinsmann is a practical coach at heart. This is a practical team for a job that requires a practical approach.

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