What To Watch For: U.S. Men’s National Team vs. Czech Republic

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

Welcome to the new cycle.

The U.S. Men’s National Team kicks off their build for the 2018 World Cup with an encounter against the Czech Republic in Prague. For this match, the spotlight is placed firmly upon youth. Yes, there will be some familiar faces in the USMNT roster, including that of captain Jozy Altidore, Brad Guzan and Fabian Johnson. However, this is clearly a transitional period for the team, and as such, has afforded coach Jurgen Klinsmann the luxury of garnering experience for his brightest youth stars.

Wins and losses matter little in this, the USMNT’s first international match following the 2014 World Cup. However, there is still plenty to watch for in this encounter.

WHO’S THAT?!

Landon Donovan’s unexpected exile from this year’s World Cup was the first sign in a changing guard at the national level. This match serves as the follow up.

Without Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones or the aforementioned Donovan on the roster, names like Emerson Hyndman, Joe Gyau, Jordan Morris, Bobby Wood and Rubio Rubin will be carrying the mantle for U.S. Soccer.

For many, this will be their first glimpse of these players in senior team action. Of the 22 call-ups by Klinsmann, five have yet to earn an official cap with the National Team, while 15 of those players are below the age of 24. Seattle Sounders academy product Jordan Morris is of particular interest as he is the first college player to be called up since Klinsmann’s reign began at the helm.

There is also much to read into the quality of youth players chosen by Klinsmann. Outside of Morris, the newcomers are all European based, with Cody Cropper (Southampton), Joe Gyau (Borussia Dortmund II), Rubio Rubin (Utrecht), Bobby Wood (1860 Munich) and Emerson Hyndman (Fulham) making up the core. While the senior team continues to move their way back to MLS, Klinsmann is awarding those who choose the hardened road of European football.

CAPTAIN ALTIDORE

As Clint Dempsey marches on with the Seattle Sounders and Tim Howard takes a sabbatical from the game, it is young Jozy Altidore who has been bestowed with the captain’s armband.

On one end, the honor is logical. Altidore has earned more caps (71) than any other player on the roster. However, his inability to break through Sunderland’s roster, along with his shortcomings last season, goes against Klinsmann’s mantra of awarding players for their club success.

A game like this can certainly help break a funk. Altidore limped out of the World Cup amidst a stunning U.S. run. Whether on the club or international level, he has much to prove as a player. The armband will only accentuate that.

GUZAN vs. RIMANDO

Speaking of Howard’s sabbatical, there will be an ongoing war between the sticks to decide who will be the clear-cut number one keeper for the USMNT. Right now, that battle wages between Aston Villa star Brad Guzan and Real Salt Lake stalwart Nick Rimando.

Both keepers will be given a half to show what they can do against a motivated Czech Republic. While it may be the USMNT’s first shot at competitive minutes on the international stage, the Czechs are preparing for their Euro 2016 qualifiers. Much like Howard’s barrage against Belgium, both keepers will surely be tested by the home side.

THE SECOND CHANCERS

Finally, several familiar faces have been invited back to the national team to prove their worth.

Tim Ream may be the most interesting of the call-ups. The former New York Red Bull has become a fan favorite for Bolton. Ream nearly earned a late opportunity to break into the U.S. World Cup squad this year, but elected to pass on the opportunity and stay with his family after the birth of his child.

Now 26-years-old, Ream will be given the opportunity to make his mark on the U.S. defensive line from the onset of this cycle in what will likely be his last chance at international glory.

Michael Orozco is another name set to return with the club, along with fellow Liga MX-er Joe Corona. Each were early favorites of the Klinsmann regime, but saw the axe in May. German American Alfredo Morales of Ingolstadt is another young product to keep an eye on. The much ballyhooed addition to the U.S. scene managed a single cap, but remains a promising prospect.