USMNT face trial by fire with stacked int’l schedule ahead of World Cup 2018

IMAGE, EMPIRE OF SOCCER

IMAGE, EMPIRE OF SOCCER

By PATRICK MacDONALD
Staff Writer

The 2014 World Cup is now firmly in the rear view mirror for Jurgen Klinsmann and company.

It’s now time to prepare for what lies ahead.

The next four years will be a bit unusual for the National Team as they could play in as many as four international tournaments, on top of World Cup qualifying. They have the 2015 and 2017 Gold Cups, the all important 2016 Copa America, plus they’ve earned the right to at least compete in a playoff for the 2017 Confederations Cup.

One thing’s for sure; the U.S. will have plenty of international experience once they touch down in Russia come 2018.

With all this approaching, Klinsmann has decisions to make. Should he kick some of the old guys to the curb and get the young guys as much experience as possible leading into Russia? Or should he continue to just play the best players possible? It’s probably a bit of both.

First up is the 2015 Gold Cup which should be a “victory lap” of sorts for the squad that went to Brazil. Most of the older guys should get one last chance to represent the shirt in front of their fans. Guys like Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones, and Clint Dempsey have earned that right having likely played their last World Cup.

Considering how American goalkeepers age, Tim Howard’s a bit of a wildcard. He may have already anointed Brad Guzan as the U.S. keeper in Russia, but with his contract keeping him at Everton until 2018, don’t rule out the possibility Tim Howard will still be a key member of the national team going forward.

Other veterans  like Chris Wondolowski and DaMarcus Beasley may be done in the jersey. Wondo is a bench player — one who failed on the grand stage. At 31, why keep him around when someone like Terrence Boyd can gain that experience? Beasley was excellent in this World Cup, but will always be a stop-gap measure at left back. It’s time to find his replacement. With the emergence of DeAndre Yedlin as a potential right back, that replacement could very well be Fabian Johnson.

The biggest reason Klinsmann may want to trot out his strongest lineup, even with guys who may not be around in 2018, is that winning this Gold Cup automatically qualifies the U.S. for the 2017 Confederations Cup.

Klinsmann will likely get a pass at the Gold Cup — not that he’ll need it. The U.S. should have no problem playing a possession based attacking style offense against CONCACAF opposition, much like they did with a B squad in 2013. The big test comes in 2016 with the Copa America. It’s hard to think of a situation where Jurgen Klinsmann can escape criticism if the team plays meekly against South American opposition like they did against Belgium this past week. The 2016 roster probably won’t be the 2018 roster, but the shift should be noticeable by this point. And as hard as transitions can be, the U.S. cannot skip a beat.

If you think Klinsmann is invulnerable, you need only look south of the border at Jose Manuel de la Torre to see how quickly an ‘untouchable’ coach can lose his job.

The 2017 Gold Cup will look an awful lot like the the 2013 version, especially if the team makes the Confederations Cup. Second teamers will take the field and gain valuable international experience. Don’t forget; 2013 was when Kyle Beckerman became a revelation. Off year or not, the Gold Cup is always important for those players looking to impress the manager for World Cup consideration.

Klinsmann has a tough road ahead of him, there is no doubt about that. But in the long run, the many international tests against tough opponents should only benefit the squad that eventually touches down in Russia. The U.S. coach did it in 2013, so there’s little reason to doubt that he’ll bring this squad back to its possession based style.

He’ll have to — his job depends on it.