Donovan varsity return highlights strong USMNT squad

Posted by Doug McIntyre

Jurgen Klinsmann has used 47 players in the national team's 17 games this year -- the past 12 of them ending in wins -- but there seems little doubt that the 23 men the U.S. coach will have at his disposal in San Jose, Costa Rica, where the national team resumes World Cup qualifying, will comprise his strongest roster of 2013.

On Thursday, Klinsmann revealed his squad for the Sept. 6 match against the Ticos, and then the contest four days later against Mexico in Columbus, Ohio. And for the first time since June of last year, the U.S. contingent includes both of the country's top attacking players, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey.

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All of the other mainstays -- minus the injured Steve Cherundolo, Herculez Gomez and Stuart Holden -- are there as well. Also included on the 23-man squad Klinsmann revealed Thursday afternoon on "SportsCenter" are recent blue-chip dual–national recruits John Brooks and Aron Johannsson, giving Klinsmann perhaps the most powerful team of his tenure of a little more than two years.

The timing couldn't be better.

Despite the Americans' summer of success -- they took nine points from three June qualifiers, beat highly regarded European sides Germany and Bosnia-Herzegovina (the latter on the road), and took home the Gold Cup title -- the U.S. has never won a competitive match in Costa Rica, where it has lost six straight. But if other results go its way, a victory in Central America next month could ensure passage to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, even before the grudge match against El Tri takes place.

"The Costa Rica game in San Jose is the biggest game in 2013 for all of us because we want to win there," Klinsmann said. "We want to get three points. We want to qualify as soon as possible for the World Cup in Brazil."

Having Donovan back will help. The program's all-time scorer has been a lock since dominating July's Gold Cup, but the 31-year-old rejoins the varsity after more than a year away. Whatever issues existed between the L.A. Galaxy star and Klinsmann -- after Donovan, citing fatigue, skipped the first three qualifiers of 2013 before being overlooked for the next three as he rounded back into form -- are now a distant memory.

Brooks, meanwhile, made an impressive debut in the 4-3 friendly win in Sarajevo two weeks ago. Afterward, he told reporters that he would gladly accept a call from the U.S. for September's matches -- ones that, should he step on the field, would end any chance of him ever playing for Germany, where he was born (his father is from Chicago).

"They confirmed that they belong with their performances in Bosnia," Klinsmann said. "It gives us more options."

Given the growing depth of the player pool, it wasn't shocking that regulars such as Terrence Boyd, Joe Corona and Sacha Kljestan were left out. (Although with eight players sitting on yellow cards, there's every chance that one or all three could join the team for the game in Columbus.)

Indeed, the most surprising thing about Klinsmann's latest roster may have been when it was announced.

Breaking from his habit of not revealing his invitees until the bulk of them have actually reported for duty -- in some cases just two days before a key match -- the German made his latest squad public on "SportsCenter" more than a week before the Hexagonal-leading Americans take on the second-place Ticos. Maybe making an announcement on Labor Day wouldn't have been ideal. But the main reason Klinsmann made his picks early this time is that heading into the stretch run of qualifying, the manager knows his player pool inside and out. Simply put, his decisions already had been made before this weekend's slate of club matches.

Klinsmann knows what he has now, and it is this group that will be charged with ensuing qualification next month.

"The mindset is clearly 'first things first,' meaning Costa Rica," Klinsmann said. "We want three points in Costa Rica. That is all that matters."

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