U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has called upon two on-form MLS strikers for the upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, and they couldn't be happier or more eager to get started.
Alan Gordon has deposit 13 goals and contributed seven assists in 23 games for the league-leading San Jose Earthquakes, while Eddie Johnson has 14 goals to his credit in his first season with the Seattle Sounders.
For Klinsmann, the duo represent a strategic selection for the type of game they bring, and the type of game he expects against Antigua & Barbuda and Guatemala in the upcoming matches.
“We wanted to bring in Eddie and Alan because both are really strong in the air,” he said. “We expect two difficult games where the opponent will probably play more defensively. They will probably get a lot of numbers in their box or in front of their box to play more defensive against us, so we need to have [the forwards] force things with crosses coming over the wings and be really strong in the air. That was the reason we brought in Eddie and Alan, two guys into the squad that are really good in the air and that can lay balls off.”
In Johnson’s case, he also recognizes a drive to perform that comes at the right time for the kind of battles the team will face in the final two qualifiers.
“I think Eddie is back into that position because he worked very hard for it. Watch his games and you see his drive and hunger that he has, the way he chases defenders, the way he creates chances for himself and his striking partners and the way he also finishes things off,” Klinsmann said.
Johnson brings a wealth of experience at the international level – having collected 42 caps – and in World Cup qualifying in particular, where his eight career goals are tied with Clint Dempsey for fourth place on the USA's all-time list. For the striker, he is thrilled to be back.
“It’s good to be around familiar faces. Anytime you get to represent your country it’s an honor,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t get any better. I’m like a kid in the candy store. This is what I have worked hard for, and this is only the beginning. I still have a lot of work to go.”
The 30-year old Gordon has found the perfect storm of health, form and chemistry within his club team and that has led to perhaps his finest year as a professional. With all he has been through in his career, Gordon has learned to appreciate when good things come his way.
“It’s fantastic. I’m blessed to be here,” Gordon said. “I’m just going to enjoy it and do the best I can and try to help the team. This is the probably the best run I’ve had in my career. It just took me being healthy and staying healthy. I’ve put a lot of hard work into that and it has paid off. I’m playing good soccer right now. The coaches here feel that I can be of some help, and I hope I can prove them right.”
The inclusion of Gordon and Johnson also illuminates the bigger picture for every player in the U.S. pool, and Klinsmann wants the point to be perfectly clear.
“It’s a message to everybody that the door is always open. It shows that if you give everything you have, and you bring in certain qualities that there might be an opportunity again. Eddie has proved it at this level in the past, and it's another opportunity again for Alan Gordon after he came with us to Mexico. It shows them that if they stay focused and work hard and give everything they have, there are chances for 2014 in Brazil.”