It was only moments after watching his team eliminated from the World Cup that Jurgen Klinsmann first made it clear that, as far as the U.S. national team talent pool was concerned, he would be looking for new blood as soon as possible.
Little did we know to what depths Klinsmann would mine for prospects, or just how young the next generation of national team hopefuls would be.
The roster Klinsmann selected for next week’s friendly against the Czech Republic is the youngest we have seen a U.S. coach call up since Bob Bradley called up a slew of uncapped MLS players for the January national team camp in 2011. Even that team wasn’t quite as green as this group from a professional experience standpoint, though it did have less national team experience (12 of 14 players were uncapped, as opposed to just six this time around).
The roster Klinsmann has chosen boasts four teenagers, and a total of eight players age 21 or younger. Of those players, you have collegian Jordan Morris, who has yet to turn pro, and recently-minted pros Emerson Hyndman and Rubio Rubin, who only just made their club debuts earlier this month.
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So why has Klinsmann gone so young with this roster selection? Simply put, his options are pretty limited on the foreign-based player front. At least in terms of players he hasn’t already seen, or doesn’t already know well. At present, there just aren’t a ton of American players earning regular playing time in foreign leagues, but what Klinsmann does have is a budding crop of young Americans just starting out, and embarking on the early parts of their careers, and rather than calling in a mostly-veteran team this time around, he has decided to call in what almost feels like a U-23 team in hopes of unearthing some gems.
“You want to take some risks to introduce young players, players that haven’t proven yet what quality they have,” Klinsmann said of the roster revealed on Thursday. “So we always will juggle both things: we want to get results because we want to get the confidence and we want to build more credibility, and we want to get more respect towards all the other nations from around the world.
“At the same time we’re also responsible for developing players, and players only can develop and get to the next level if you give them a chance to play,” Klinsmann added. “So maybe if there’s a 50/50 situation between an established player and a younger player, and we maybe don’t know some of the answers yet about the younger player but we know a lot about that experienced player, I probably will take the younger player because it just makes more sense, and this is what we’re going to try to do and we will also communicate to everyone.”
Klinsmann is no stranger to calling in young players, but what is different this time is that unlike the usual scenario, where a few young players join a camp filled with veterans, this camp has very few true seasoned vets. Nick Rimando, Brad Guzan, Jozy Altidore, Alejandro Bedoya and Fabian Johnson are essentially the old guard, while the majority of the rest are players not quite in their mid-20s.
The result of such a young group will be giving Klinsmann a chance to see how these new faces stack up against each other, and which players shine, and which emerge as potential leaders for the future. More than anything, Klinsmann has to be looking for some strong first impressions. The players who look like they belong will be seen again, while the ones who look overwhelmed will be tossed back in the player pool and be given more time to develop.
If there is a sense of concern over whether Klinsmann might not be exposing players who are simply too young to a process they might not be ready for, it is understandable. The U.S. national team’s recent history is littered with cautionary tales of young players who were given too much too soon, or anointed as the “next big thing” only to see their careers fizzle. Even Klinsmann himself noted this phenomenon earlier in his tenure, which is part of the reason there was some sense of surprise at just how young a aquad he decided to call in to face the Czech Republic.
Klinsmann’s philosophy hasn’t changed so much as circumstances dictated calling in a group this young. This was the best chance he had of seeing many of these younger prospects up close, and might be the only time he seems them himself for a good while. Perhaps a few make the most of the opportunity and impress Klinsmann, but more likely we will see many of the youngsters drop back into their natural age groups ahead of a very busy next few years.
That is ultimately what cannot be forgotten about this process. Simply calling in a player doesn’t commit them to a permanent place in the meat grinder that is international soccer. It is simply an audition, and if they are not ready now, they just might be ready later on down the road, and for the teenagers in the process, there are other teams they can be a part of.
As Klinsmann pointed out in his announcement, the next two years will be exciting ones for the entire national team set-up. From the Under-20 World Cup and Gold Cup next year, to the Olympics and Copa America in 2016, and the World Cup qualifying campaign which will also kick off that year.
This young team called up by Klinsmann isn’t quite as dramatic a shift as it may have seemed at first blush, but it is certainly clear evidence that Klinsmann is serious about leaving no stone unturned in his search for the caliber of player capable of helping the U.S. enjoy success in the next World Cup.