Two Augusts ago was about gaining an understanding. Last August was about breaking down a supposedly impenetrable barrier. This August is about making sure the progress made in the last year is built upon in order to carry forward into the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and beyond.
The awkwardly timed late-summer international fixture date is a hassle for just about everyone involved. For European clubs whose seasons have just began or are about to begin, their players are not completely match fit and teams are concerned about their stars picking up a knock.
For leagues whose seasons are well underway, like MLS, Liga Bancomer MX and those in Scandinavia, players have to worry about the club schedule congestion mixed with sometimes rigorous travel, all for a game that really doesn't mean much.
It doesn't to most, anyway. USA manager Jurgen Klinsmann has made a habit of getting something useful out of the fixture date. It was August 2011 when Klinsmann coached his first game with the USA. His side earned a 1-1 draw against Mexico in Philadelphia in a game that served as a learning experience for just about everyone wearing a U.S. crest.
Last summer, Klinsmann took a rather experimental team to Estadio Azteca and was able to accomplish something no other USA team had done on Mexican soil -- win. That friendly result took a swing at the mystique surrounding the Azteca while helping pave the way for the current squad to earn a precious point in enemy territory this past March.
This time around, Klinsmann is using the August fixture date for another purpose altogether. Wednesday's match against Bosnia-Herzegovina presents a challenge for some of the entrenched USA first-teamers like Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Tim Howard and Geoff Cameron. But more importantly, it allows for the integration of dual-nationals Aron Johannsson and John Anthony Brooks, which not only helps the USA for the present, but also helps build a foundation going forward for the 2018 cycle.
U.S. Soccer has had a glaring need for a young central defender to build around for some time, as the 2011 U-20 side and the 2012 U-23 Olympic qualifying team both fell victim to a weakened defensive wall. Both teams failed to reach their respective worldwide tournament destinations largely as a result of the personnel hole.
The 20-year-old Brooks is the type of potential-filled player who could have plugged holes on both of those sides and is already proving his worth in the German club circuit. He helped Hertha Berlin to promotion last season and has already contributed a game-winning goal in the first Bundesliga game of this season. The German-American's presence in the U.S. player pool gives Klinsmann a building block to mold for the near and distant future. Just appearing in this camp does not make Brooks' future donning a U.S. jersey iron clad, but it certainly is a major step in steering him that way.
The 22-year-old Johannsson, while ineligible to play for the USA until his one-time international allegiance switch from Iceland has been approved by FIFA, has proven his scoring prowess on the club level in Denmark and during his brief time in the Netherlands.
He has been on Klinsmann's radar for some time, with the U.S. boss telling U.S. Soccer's official website that injury woes kept him from joining his January training camp. His prolific ability will be a welcome addition to the USA's ever-growing and improving forward corps, an area that was seen as a weakness just a few short years ago.
Johannsson (who can't play) and Brooks (who won't necessarily play, although the shortage of able-bodied center backs following Michael Orozco Fiscal's hamstring injury may thrust him into action) are not going to be officially locked into the U.S. program by Wednesday.
(*EDITOR'S NOTE: Johannsson's switch was approved by FIFA following the publication of this article, making him eligible to play for the USA effective immediately.)
But just being able to incorporate the two dual-nationals and begin their USA orientation -- while also exposing 20-year-old goalkeeper Cody Cropper and 20-year-old forward Bobby Wood to the first-team setting -- is about the most Klinsmann can hope to gain out of the awkward date that is sandwiched in between the USA's Gold Cup triumph and a pair of World Cup qualifiers next month that could seal a place in Brazil.
Sure, Wednesday's match against Bosnia-Herzegovina will end in a win, loss or draw for the USA, a result that could either extend the USA's winning streak to an all-time record 12 or halt it at 11. But in terms of the grander scope, the USA is already closing in on another useful August before a single second has ticked off the game clock in Sarajevo.