SAN FRANCISCO — The winds that have come to be synonymous with Candlestick Park were swirling extra strong on Monday afternoon as the U.S. national team went through the motions in training. Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann directed his team through a series of drills to the delight of the fans in attendance at the rare open training session, ooh’ing and ahh’ing with each goal and each clever pass.
The U.S. team’s pre-World Cup training camp has been, for the most part, one big secret. Klinsmann has done his best to avoid giving away many details for the past week at Stanford University. His players have danced around questions about details of camp, from what positions they are playing to what formations we might see. “I can’t say” and “you have to ask the manager” have been uttered enough in camp media sessions to merit being printed on t-shirts.
So it came as a surprise to see Klinsmann trot out what looked for all the world like his first-choice starting lineup for Tuesday’s friendly against Azerbaijan in a full 11 on 11 drill. Whether he simply decided it was time to lift the curtain a day early, or he wanted to reward the fans who braved the stiff winds to watch his team train, Klinsmann unveiled a team that resembles what we might see against Ghana on June 16.
The squad featured Tim Howard in goal, Fabian Johnson at right back, Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler at center backs, and DaMarcus Beasley at left back. Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley manned the central midfield, with Clint Dempsey deployed in front of them. Alejandro Bedoya patrolled the left flank while Graham Zusi worked the right wing. Jozy Altidore took up his customary position as the squad’s target forward.
Before training, Klinsmann wouldn’t go as far as to say he has settled on a starting lineup.
“No, but we’ll definitely experiment here and there because we went to give the guys as much playing time as we can,” Klinsmann said regarding whether he had an idea of the team that will face Ghana. “We have six subs obviously. But we also want to already see a flow in our game with the lineup that is in our eyes very strong and kind of very close to the one we see in three weeks down the road, so we try to kind of fit both, but it’s not easy.”
The biggest question marks coming out of camp were on the back line, where it appears Cameron has moved ahead of Omar Gonzalez for the starting central defender spot next to Besler, while Beasley looks to be holding off Tim Chandler at left back for now.
Klinsmann said the battle for spots on the back line continues to be fierce and he plans on getting a good look at the different defensive options over the course of the next three matches.
“Hopefully, once we’re in Brazil and we have the first game kind of we have that back line doing well and begin consistent and not changing too many things around because you don’t want to do that with a back four line,” Klinsmann said. “In those three upcoming friendly games, those send-off games yes because they’re very, very talented. There’s races for those spots, and we want to give them exposure, want to give them time.
"We’ll definitely make some changes to give them a chance, to prove a point, but actually with all of them being in here at the training sessions and also the scrimmages we’ve done, we are actually very positive on this whole process. It looks good. Hopefully we can confirm that tomorrow night, by the way.”
Though he may not be ready to call it his first-choice World Cup lineup, the starting squad Klinsmann unveils on Tuesday will likely bear a close resemblance to the lineup that takes the field in Natal against Ghana. While Azerbaijan isn’t going to present anywhere close to the type of challenge the Ghanaians will, Tuesday will offer the first chance to see the team Klinsmann is putting together, and the lineup that will have the responsibility of navigating the Group of Death.