One year ago, Jurgen Klinsmann was having serious doubts about a certain player's commitment to the U.S. men's national team. He let the player know that he would be left off the national team for a while, and when he returned he would need to prove to his teammates that he was fully committed. He was given a chance to show what he could do as part of the 30-man preliminary World Cup roster and on Thursday, that player made the final 23-man U.S. World Cup team.
If you thought that story was about Landon Donovan right until the end, you probably aren’t alone.
That player was not Donovan, but Timmy Chandler, the long-lost fullback who disappeared from the national team picture soon after being cap-tied to the United States. Klinsmann expressed some very clear reservations about Chandler’s commitment, and when he refused to call him into national team camps even when Chandler was playing well for Bundesliga side Nuremberg, it seemed for all the world like Chandler was never coming back into the fold.
“Timmy went through an interesting process,” Klinsmann said on Friday. “Obviously, he was in the early stages of coming back and forth, always a little bit messed up in a certain way. Traveling is not his favorite thing to do, oversees flights and stuff.
“He was part of that group that unfortunately lost in beautiful San Pedro Sula that day and I had serious talks with him. I said ‘I want you whenever you come and they will come again and I need you 1000 percent committed to everything, even if you’ve said that before.” And I said, ‘ Your teammates, everybody needs to see that’.
“So even through a learning curve, I told him ‘I’ll leave you out for a little while now. You need to think through that’.
Even though he had cast out Chandler, he still kept tabs on the young defender, calling on a close friend and former teammate who worked at Nuremberg to keep him posted on Chandler’s progress. The reports were very promising as Chandler emerged as a key figure for Nuremberg.
“Now, he turned into one of their leaders, one of their almost spokespersons in the locker room at a very early age already,” Klinsmann said. “That is why also they were keen to get him back on the field as early as possible because they were in the relegation battle and they were saying, ‘We need him for the locker room. We need him not only on the field, we need him off the field.’
“And I said well that’s interesting because obviously he still has to go through that learning curve. Then obviously watching him, we can make out that he’s coming back fit. He’s played strong right away. I told him ‘Listen, you get that chance to come into the 30-man roster, but you have to prove that to everyone here’.
“And from day one on he took over. He did that, and that was his learning curve. He’s a different teammate now then he was a year-and-a-half ago,” Klinsmann said. “I think players go maybe earlier through that learning process, some go late. At least, he went through it.”
Chandler’s impressive camp form not only earned him a place on the final 23-man World Cup roster, it now has him in the conversation to start at right back when the Americans face Ghana. His speed, ability to attack, and strong defensive qualities make him a very viable option to start.
As for any lingering concerns about his commitment to the team, Klinsmann and Chandler’s teammates sound convinced that Chandler has grown up and is ready to be a key part of the team going forward.
“Timmy is a quiet guy. He doesn’t’ show too much emotion,” U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “That’s always how he’s been. In terms of commitment, he’s trained well. In the games, he’s played really well. Obviously he had to come back from injury. I think everyone has been happy with the way he’s responded.”
Nobody is happier than Klinsmann, who took a chance on dropping Chandler, only to bring him back and find a more mature player, one who might have the kind of successful return to the national team few could have imagined a few months ago.