Upon a first pass through the 30-player preliminary U.S. World Cup roster released Monday, it was only natural to quickly think about the missing names. Eddie Johnson was the first to come to mind, followed by the likes of Juan Agudelo and Tim Ream. Even past Klinsmann favorites like Brek Shea and Michael Orozco merited a passing thought to what might have been.
Tracking the snubs is a time-honored tradition for fans around the world, but in considering the snubs first, it is easy to overlook the players who played their way into a dream chance to participate in a World Cup. For every tear shed for an Eddie Johnson, there should be at least one smile for the others who did what they had to do to earn a call from Klinsmann.
Consider Joe Corona, who six months ago was stuck on the bench at Club Tijuana playing for a coach who seemed uninterested in giving him minutes in a World Cup year. Or Maurice Edu, who was swatting away cobwebs at Stoke City, facing an uncertain future, looking like he’d have no chance at a second World Cup before MLS came calling. He took full advantage of his return to the league where his career began.
Then you have Tim Chandler, whom many pegged as a lost cause as the months flew by without any sign of him in the national team picture. Rumors of a lack of commitment, as well as questions of whether Klinsmann had given up on him, made his inclusion seem like the longest of long shots as recently as six months ago. Chandler just kept on playing and impressing. Even after suffering a torn meniscus that looked like it might knock him out of the World Cup picture, he fought his way back.
So how exactly did Johnson miss out? His lack of production with D.C. United clearly played a part, as did the more consistent club success of players like Terrence Boyd and Chris Wondolowski. You also have to wonder how much Jozy Altidore’s own struggles factored in. Why? Klinsmann was always going to bring Altidore to the World Cup, his club struggles at Sunderland be damned. But could Klinsmann realistically bring along two out-of-form forwards to Brazil? We may never know, but if Altidore had spent the season pouring goals in for Sunderland, it may have been easier for Klinsmann to take a flyer on Johnson.
For Agudelo and Shea, their absences should serve as cautionary tales about how to handle career moves when you have World Cup aspirations. Both players took lucrative paydays to go to Stoke City and both saw those moves backfire, at least from a national team standpoint. Shea never broke through for playing time, settling for sparse loans that dropped him from Klinsmann favorite to an afterthought. Agudelo had his work permit appeal rejected and tried salvaging his move to Europe with a loan to FC Utrecht. It was a decent enough stopgap, but not enough to help him earn a UK work permit, or even a place on the 30-player preliminary World Cup roster.
The reality is none of the snubs were all that shocking, but they do seem a bit surprising when compared with some of the players who did make it.
Julian Green’s inclusion will surprise some, but it shouldn’t. From the moment Klinsmann began recruiting the Bayern Munich youngster, it was clear that committing to the USA would give Green a chance to play himself on the World Cup team. Only Klinsmann and Green know for sure if Green has actually been promised a World Cup place, but it is clear Green will be given a chance to impress. If he does, Klinsmann will bring him to Brazil.
DeAndre Yedlin was another surprise inclusion for a variety of reasons. First, when Klinsmann chose to start Tony Beltran instead of Yedlin against Mexico in April, it seemed like it might be a sign that the young full back wasn’t quite ready for the international level. Struggles with his defensive responsibilities in Seattle soon followed, and this past weekend he endured one of the worst matches of his young career.
So why bring Yedlin? Klinsmann clearly wants some youth in camp and sees Yedlin as a long-term prospect. There is also the fact that Yedlin is one of the fastest players in the national team pool. He could trouble U.S. starters in training if asked to go at them the way wingers in Group G most certainly will.
Does Yedlin realistically have a chance to make the World Cup roster? He seems like the longest of long shots, but even if he doesn’t make it, Yedlin should grow from the experience. It could serve him well in the 2016 Olympics and eventually the 2018 World Cup.
That is another factor that is easy to forget when considering Klinsmann’s roster decisions. He is under contract through the 2018 World Cup, meaning it is in his best interests to also think about the kind of young nucleus he is putting together. Nine of the 30 players chosen for the preliminary World Cup roster are 24-years-old or younger, and some of those are among the players drawing the most scrutiny for being chosen to the preliminary roster.
That is the balancing act Klinsmann had to pull off when choosing his roster. Once you throw away the notion that the squad represents the 30 best players in the pool, and think about all the factors Klinsmann had to consider, it becomes easier to dispense with the notion that Green or Yedlin should be blamed for every snub on Monday.
The only person to “blame” is Klinsmann, but do so knowing that he really didn’t deliver any shocking decisions. Those could still come in three weeks though, when he has to find seven players to trim from a stacked preliminary roster. As surprising as Eddie Johnson’s omission was, he was still likely on the outside of the 23-man World Cup squad.
The reality is there will likely be some even more surprising exclusions when the final roster is selected. That is the beauty of having the deepest player pool in U.S. national team history. There will be tough decisions, disappointed players and fans who will scratch their heads trying to understand just what Klinsmann is thinking. That isn’t a bad thing. it’s a great thing, because having options beats the alternative, and being able to come up with lists of snubbed players beats struggling to come up with a list of 23 players worthy of taking to Brazil.