Every MLS coach’s favorite international break (in the middle of the playoffs) is upon us, and with it another round of USA friendlies. This time, Jurgen Klinsmann has elected take the Yanks to the British Isles for a pair of matches against Colombia on Friday (2:45 p.m. ET on ESPN) at Fulham’s Craven Cottage in London, followed by a trip to Dublin to take on Ireland next Tuesday (2:45 p.m. ET on ESPN2). As with every national team camp, this one has its fair share of intrigue and storylines. Let’s get to it.
We Have A Lee Nguyen Sighting
The New England Revolution man, who has seemingly become every MLS observer’s favorite midfielder with his blistering scoring run of 20 goals across all competitions this season, makes his return to the national side for the first time in seven years. Can he win Jurgen Klinsmann’s heart and fill the national team’s gaping hole in attacking midfield? The USA haven’t had an effective number 10 in God knows how long, and Michael Bradley showed in Brazil he is anything but capable of filling that role on a full-time basis. There is nothing but opportunity facing Nguyen in this national team camp, and it’s notable that Jurgen didn’t wait until the MLS-heavy January camp to give the 28-year-old Nguyen a call-up. Perhaps he sees a similar opportunity for Nguyen. Will he capitalize? Impressing in this camp and getting some run in these friendlies could be huge in Nguyen’s national team future.
The Jermaine Jones Experience
Keeping with New England for a bit, the Jermaine Jones move to center-back was one of the major stories coming out of the last national team camp and, based on Klinsmann’s comments about the situation, it apparently will be a story going forward. Jones made his national team debut at the position in the USA’s last game against Honduras, and received plaudits from Klinsmann. Can we expect to see Jones at center-back again this camp?
Despite New England making no plans to employ him at his new found position, the answer would appear to be yes. The only other potential center-backs on this roster are Matt Besler, John Brooks, and Geoff Cameron, and it would seem given Klinsmann’s affinity for the former Schalke man that Jones will get at least a run out in defense. While he performed well in his new role against a rather bland Honduras side, he and the rest of the U.S. defense will truly be put to the test this week against World Cup breakout star James Rodriguez of Real Madrid and his standout teammate, Jackson Martinez of Porto, not to mention MLS MVP frontrunner Robbie Keane.
Time will only tell how far into the future Klinsmann sees Jones ably patrolling the back line. Will he last all the way through the Gold Cup and Copa America to remain in the USA fold for Russia in 2018? Considering that, at least in the near future, his only opportunities to play center back will be with the national team, every chance he gets to play there will be crucial to that end. This week’s tests may well show whether Jones is up to the task.
Jozy Gets to Play
It seems that Jozy Altidore can’t buy himself into the team at Sunderland these days and, as seems to be the case at every national team camp anymore, this camp offers him a reprieve from the frustrations and trials of Gus Poyet’s bench. Jozy showed a flash of the brilliance that keeps us grasping for more the last time out against Honduras, and this camp presents another opportunity to maintain any form he can muster. It’s been no secret that Altidore wants out of Sunderland at the next transfer window, and every time out in the national colors presents a chance for him to impress potential January suitors. Will Orlando City be watching? It seems more likely that Jozy will end up somewhere in Europe. Either way, this national team camp will be very important for Altidore’s club future.
Will One of the “New Breed” Stand Out?
Klinsmann has made it a point in the post World Cup period to pump new blood into the veins of the national team. However, with so many unknown quantities among his additions to the squad, his efforts raise more questions than answers. Among them:
Will Deandre Yedlin take the next step in his development as a defender in front of what will likely be many of his future Tottenham supporters in London? Will Greg Garza continue to impress at fullback? Despite their moments of glory in Brazil, can John Brooks and Julian Green show more development and improve their consistency? Can Bobby Wood show a few more glimpses into his talent and potentially provide depth behind Altidore?
In garnering a second call-up, Minnesota United’s wonder story Miguel Ibarra must have shown Klinsmann something in the last camp to confirm his initial belief in the second division attacker. Will Ibarra get more than a cameo appearance in either of the friendlies, especially against such high level competition on the road in Europe? Will we see first team debuts from Stanford’s Jordan Morris or Utrecht’s Rubio Rubin?
What can we expect from these upcoming matches? Frankly, who knows? Trying to predict Klinsmann’s team selection throughout his tenure has been a bit of a crap shoot. We can only wait and see, and hope to see a more entertaining USA product than we did against Honduras last month. The one thing we can say for certain? Following Jurgen Klinsmann’s USMNT certainly isn’t boring.