The winter transfer window saw Michael Bradley among a group of Americans to leave Europe for MLS, but there is still a good amount of talent overseas for Klinsmann to evaluate.As American players began trickling back across the Atlantic and returning to Major League Soccer this winter, there started to be a real concern among U.S. national team fans about the seemingly diminishing American presence in Europe and what it could mean for the USA.
That concern was a bit premature because as much as there were a good number of U.S. pool players to return to MLS during the January transfer window, we have also seen several Americans take up stronger positions in Europe now than they held before.
Juan Agudelo opened his scoring account with Dutch side FC Utrecht on Thursday, less than a week after delivering a game-tying assist against Ajax. Oguchi Onyewu has settled in as a starter for League Championship side Sheffield Wednesday, helping the club climb away from the relegation zone. Brek Shea has found success in a temporary home in the same league, settling in well at Barnsley.
As much as having Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley leave Europe in the past six months is a big blow in terms of losing two of the most established and respected Americans plying their trades in Europe, the landscape oversees isn’t exactly barren of Americans.
We will have a chance to see just how the pool of current European-based Americans is looking on March 5, when the U.S. takes on Ukraine. With the 2014 MLS season kicking off just three days later, Klinsmann has already gone on record as saying his roster for the March friendly would consist of European-based players. With Liga MX-based players expected to be a part of the rumored April friendly against Mexico, we aren’t likely to see them against Ukraine either.
So what sort of team can Klinsmann put together to face Ukraine without his large collection of MLS-based contributors? It is a more promising group than you might imagine, and a team filled with several players who have earned the chance to impress, and potentially play their way back into the World Cup mix after looking like extreme long shots.
Here is a look at the group we could see called up to take on Ukraine:
Tim Howard, Brad Guzan
The two top American goalkeepers are easy calls to make, and having Howard in goal is a must considering the likelihood Klinsmann will be field a makeshift defense. The real question is whether Klinsmann might call in a third goalkeeper. Southampton reserve goalkeeper and former U.S. youth international Cody Cropper could merit a look.
Geoff Cameron, Tim Chandler, Eric Lichaj, Oguchi Onyewu, Tim Ream, John Brooks, Fabian Johnson
Chandler has not been in a U.S. uniform in a year, since the World Cup qualifying loss to Honduras in February of 2013. Injuries, bad form, and what some perceive to be Chandler’s aloofness toward the national team have been given as reasons for Chandler’s long absence. But Chandler is playing well for Bundesliga side Nurnberg and the U.S. badly needs fullback help. With Chandler capable of playing right back and left back, it would be pretty shocking if he weren’t called in to face Ukraine.
Brooks has been sidelined by a knee injury, and only returned to training this week. If he can stay healthy, he will get a look from Klinsmann, and potentially a start. If he can't start, Klinsmann might have no choice but to play Cameron in central defense, with Chandler moving into the right back spot.
The central defender situation for the Ukraine match is a bit of a complicated one because Onyewu is the only American playing regularly as a central defender. Cameron is looking more and more like a starting right back for the full squad, so starting him in central defense in the only match he will play before the pre-World Cup camp seems a bit questionable, but if Brooks is not match fit, Klinsmann may have no choice. He could consider Ream, but Ream hasn’t been playing as a center back at Bolton either.
Jermaine Jones, Danny Williams, Brek Shea, Sacha Kljestan, Alejandro Bedoya, Mix Diskerud, Julian Green
Much like Chandler, Williams has not played for the U.S. since the loss in Honduras, but he has also shown well in recent weeks and been a regular starter for English side Reading. Seeing a potential midfield trio of Williams, Jones and Diskerud could be something Klinsmann wants to take a look at.
Green’s inclusion might seem a bit of a surprise, but with the friendly not far from Green’s home base of Munich, it wouldn’t be all that difficult to have him come into a short camp and get a sense of things. It should be noted that the March fixture date was also the same date Jones was brought in as a guest to visit, and it was enough to help convince him to eventually play for the U.S.
One MLS player who could make the trip to Ukraine is Michael Bradley. Why Bradley? Toronto FC doesn’t play on the opening weekend of the MLS season, so having him come in and play a game wouldn’t be as taxing a situation as if he were set to play match that following weekend. That being said, you could understand if Klinsmann wants to let Bradley settle in with his new team.
Two players recovering from lengthy injuries who could make the trip to Ukraine are Stuart Holden and Josh Gatt. Both are working their way back from torn ACL injuries suffered last summer. Holden trained with the U.S. team in California in January, but has yet to return to action with Botlon while Gatt returned to training with Molde in late January.
Jozy Altidore, Aron Johannsson, Terrence Boyd, Juan Agudelo
Altidore, Johannsson and Boyd always figured to take part in this match, but with Agudelo enjoying a strong start with FC Utrecht (you can catch his goal just under a minute into the video above), he seems a safe bet to get a look as well. It will be very interesting to see which of the forwards starts, and just how many of them Klinsmann chooses to put into a starting lineup. Will he consider playing Johannsson wide in a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1? Could he possibly consider benching Altidore (not likely).
The better bet is to have Altidore and Johannsson start together, and give Boyd and Agudelo a chance to impress as second-half substitutes. Another name to consider is young German-based forward Bobby Wood, who Klinsmann has shown interest in having in camp in the past.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
Here is the lineup we could see take the field against Ukraine, based on this projected roster:
Tim Howard, Geoff Cameron, Oguchi Onyewu, John Brooks, Fabian Johnson, Mix Diskerud, Jermaine Jones, Danny Williams, Alejandro Bedoya, Aron Johannsson, Jozy Altidore
If Bradley were to get a call, then he could slot in for Williams. Ream could also be started in place of Brooks if Brooks isn’t fully fit.