PRAGUE — The shell of a new building stood on the far end of the training field where the U.S. national team proceeded through its first post-World Cup training session Monday afternoon. The concrete framing rose behind the far goal and stood watch over the proceedings below. Like the team practicing in its shadow, the structure boasted the sturdy underpinnings necessary to carry the eventual load without the requisite finishing work to comprise the finished article.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann will continue the construction process for his squad against Czech Republic on Wednesday. It is the first in a series of friendlies and tournaments designed to cultivate a deep and diverse group capable of navigating through qualifying and thriving at the World Cup four years from now. It is the first landmark on the path back toward the knockout stage and toward the overarching goals still looming in the distance.
"It's the first game after the World Cup," U.S. winger Julian Green said after the hourlong session with all 22 players wrapped. "It's the first step toward Russia."
Klinsmann blended the old with the new for this test to reflect the hard work ahead over the next four years. He included 10 members of his 23-man squad from the Brazilian excursion to provide the firm base required to experiment with a crop of familiar faces and young prospects trying to push their way into the pool. Geoff Cameron reduced the number of World Cup holdovers to nine through injury, but the balance still remains to mix and match in a fashion helpful to both groups.
Measured turnover critical component of continued success at the interval level. The chopping and changing to facilitate the evolution started promptly after the final whistle against Belgium. Tim Howard officially stepped away from his duties until September 2015. Other players will voluntarily or involuntarily step away as age and form erode their standing within the ranks. New stalwarts will emerge to fill the void.
The players gathered together in Prague possess the first chance to stake a claim for a place in this evolving squad. For some, it is perhaps their best opening to impress with every MLS outfield player left at home for scheduling reasons. For others, it is the opportunity required to consolidate the gains already made or continue the growth achieved in the buildup to the World Cup.
"It's always an exciting time when you start a new cycle," U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. "Obviously, we have some new faces in camp, but we've set the standard for ourselves with the last four years. It's something you want to continuously build upon."
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