So after a long post-World Cup hangover, the USMNT is back! Jürgen Klinsmann’s men exceeded expectations in Brazil, advancing through a difficult group and giving the über-talented Belgians all they could handle in a 120-minute battle. Now, with European seasons restarted, the Stars and Stripes head to Prague for a date with the Czech Republic, a once-proud squad that seems stuck in an eternal rebuild.
The Czech’s are not terrible, but are not nearly the same team that whipped the USA 3-0 in the 2006 World Cup. Meanwhile, the Yanks are trying to figure out a plan for 2018. Klinsmann wants to get a look at as much talent as possible — except Eric Lichaj, but we’ll address that in a later post — to be best prepared for Russia four years from now. So let’s go right through the roster of old and new faces man by man, because that’s how we roll at Confessions of an American Soccer Junkie.
Cody Cropper: The 21-year-old shot stopper has all the tools to be a future star in both the Premier League and the National Team. He has some pretty good mentors in Tim Howard, Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando with the USMNT. He won’t unseat the recently purchased Fraser Forster at Southampton and a loan away from Saints may be the best career move right now. Probably won’t see the field in this one.
Brad Guzan: After sitting patiently as Tim Howard’s backup for so long, it’s finally Guzan’s time. The Aston Villa keeper may already be a better shot-stopper than Howard, but needs to be a more vocal leader. He does not need to replicate Howard’s maniacal style, but he needs to prove that he can inspire a backline.
Nick Rimando: The Real Salt Lake man is probably the best keeper in MLS’ relatively short history. Always the third banana in the goalkeeping pecking order, Rimando’s days with the national team are numbered. He may get some action here, but will probably be featured more prominently in the October friendlies on home soil.
John Brooks: The hero against Ghana was third on the depth chart at centerback for Hertha Berlin, until an injury earned him his starting job back. At 21, he has all the tools to be a future star, but he’s still learning how to be a professional. He projects as a long-term starter for the national team and will see significant time in this match.
Geoff Cameron: He hasn’t had the best summer. After a disastrous performance against Portugal in the World Cup, Cameron returned to Stoke and apparently asked to play centerback full-time or be transferred. Amid swirling transfer rumors, he picked up an injury in the league cup and will sit this match out.
Timmy Chandler: As of right now, Chandler seems committed to Team USA. Of course, he could change his mind tomorrow and then reappear mysteriously down the road — his saga continues to write itself weird. He can play both outside back positions, but struggled in his audition at left back this summer. He’s more effective offensively and defensively at right back, and may earn the start there in Prague.
Greg Garza: At 23, the Tijuana fullback has a chance to earn cap number one for the USMNT. He rates incredibly high among the American die-hard supporters. Personally, I have never seen him play, but am intrigued by what I’ve read and am hoping to see him get action in this friendly.
Fabian Johnson: At this point last year we had no idea where he stood with this team. Now, he’s clearly the best outfield player on this particular squad — sorry Jozy. He can play both outside back and both wing spots, he’s a solid defender, and he’s absolutely deadly offensively when he’s in the mood. He’s coming off an assist in the Europa League for Borussia Mönchengladbach and has adjusted well to his new squad. One of the most important players for the next four years and a surefire starter against the Czechs.
Michael Orozco: On loan at Puebla, the 28-year-old had a real shot at least of making the World Cup 30 man preliminary roster, before an injury knocked him out of the running. In the prime of his career, he still is in the conversation for 2018. He can play all four defensive positions and defensive midfield, and is steady at each. Although not a world beater, he will give maximum effort every time he’s called upon.
Tim Ream: As a longtime Ream apologist since the Red Bulls days, I was thrilled to see Bolton’s 2013 player of the year get called into the squad. At 26, he’s an option at center and left back. He’s gotten his club career in order and figures to be a mainstay with for the USA going forward.
Alejandro Bedoya: After a terrific season in France for Nantes, Bedoya was expected to be a major player in Brazil. He was great defensively, but his offensive game left much to be desired. Where he plays could determine his future with the USMNT. The natural attacking midfielder has not proved he can be a weapon on the wing against elite competition. A good performance in Prague can get him trending back in the right direction.
Joe Corona: Like his Xolos teammate Garza, Corona is a favorite of the USMNT diehard fans. He’s an incredibly creative player who flashed moments of offensive brilliance in the 2013 Gold Cup. One of the last seven cut from the World Cup, Corona needs to put in a complete performance before permanently claiming a USA roster spot for this cycle’s duration.
Mix Diskerud: One of the great shocks in Brazil was that this man did not see the field. A favorite of Klinsmann who can play anywhere in the midfield, I have never seen him play poorly in the red, white and blue. And yes, I have watched all twenty caps. He’s a big player going forward who has shown the offensive ability to be worthy of the No. 10 shirt. A move from Rosenborg may be necessary for him to take the next step in his career.
Julian Green: After looking overmatched in his first two appearances, the 19-year-old Bayern Munich wonderkid scored on a volley against Belgium in the World Cup. Very quickly, no one gave a damn about any possible under the table handshakes between he and Klinsmann. Pep Guardiola loaned him to Hamburger SV for the season in an attempt to get Green steady Bundesliga playing time. His potential has no limits, and the weight of an entire nation was lifted off his shoulders the minute the ball crossed the line for his first international goal.
Emerson Hyndman: The 18-year-old figures to be a big part of the rebuilding project at Fulham. An attacking midfielder with creativity, Hyndman has been a bright spot for the Cottagers, who have gotten off to an awful start in the Championship. Another potential star, who has not been overmatched thus far against quality competition.
Alfredo Morales: The Ingolstadt man has only made one appearance for the Stars and Stripes, but has kept plugging along in the 2.Bundesliga. Morales has been behind Jermaine Jones, Cameron, Kyle Beckerman, Mo Edu and Danny Williams, but has a chance to create a fresh start if he impresses against the Czechs.
Brek Shea: Yep, he’s here. His move to Stoke has been an outright disaster, with the former great hope of American soccer seeing just three games in league play since making the jump in 2013. Stoke badly want to get rid of Shea — a move to Southampton is making its rounds in the papers — and this game could serve as an audition to rejuvenate his fledgling national and club team careers.
Jozy Altidore: Last time he played a full game for his country, the Sunderland striker bagged a brace against Nigeria. After doing his hamstring against Ghana, Jozy is back to full fitness and has been a key man off the bench for his club. Getting the ball in the net in Prague would be great for a player whose confidence seems to come and go. Still the number one guy up top for Klinsmann.
Joe Gyau: A promising winger, Gyau impressed with Hoffenheim’s second team before making a transfer over to Borussia Dortmund. Currently with Dortmund’s number two side, strong performances could get him a look with 2013 Champions League runner-ups. He’s still a work in progress, but could be featured heavily in the coming years for Klinsmann and the USA.
Jordan Morris: I have never seen him play a game, but the Seattle Sounders Academy member earned all Pac-12 as a freshman in 2013. He will almost certainly be playing for Seattle in the next couple of years, but right now may just be here to train and rub elbows with the big boys.
Rubio Rubin: The 18-year-old recently made his debut for Utrecht in the Eredivisie, picking up an assist. A pint-sized forward, Rubin is another player whose development is critical over the next few seasons as Klinsmann seeks to add youth to his roster.
Bobby Wood: Wood made his national team debut with a blink and you’ll miss it cameo in the 2013 Bosnia friendly that will best be remembered as the Jozy Altidore hat trick game. Wood has seen game action consistently for 1860 Munich, but the Hawaiian left-wing has struggled to find the net. He has one assist in three matches this season and needs to step it up for his club before being a regular call-up to the USMNT.