With every training session, with every international friendly and with every tournament, the goal for the U.S. Men’s National Team is to advance and improve as a competitive nation in international soccer.
With the CONCACAF Gold Cup as the next benchmark in the aftermath of a 2014 FIFA World Cup where the team advanced out of the “Group of Death”, U.S. MNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann set a course for a year of transition. In the 10 games since Brazil, there have been 13 newly-capped players among the total of 46 who have been given minutes, while the core of the team is strengthened and new players tested.
The USA's starting XI against Mexico in April was comprised of a variety of players with varying degrees of international experience from first time starters to World Cup vets.
In fact, six of the U.S.’s most familiar faces, Jozy Altidore, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Fabian Johnson and Jermaine Jones have not played in a game together since the first World Cup match in Ghana. There have been nine different strike partnerships, five different central defender pairings, and numerous players tried in different roles, all ultimately in an effort to ready a larger group of players while zoning in on those who will be nurtured and polished for the campaign ahead.
Youth is Served
Nineteen-year-olds Emerson Hyndman and Rubio Rubin both earned their first caps with the senior team recently, with Hyndman coming on in the second half of the U.S. MNT’s 1-0 win against the Czech Republic in September 2014, and Rubin starting against then No. 3-ranked Colombia this past November. The pair is currently applying the experience they gained from playing with the senior team with the U-20 MNT at the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup in New Zealand. Hyndman is the captain of the squad and scored the game-winning goal in the tournament’s opening match off of an assist from Rubin.
Rubio Rubin, currently at the U-20 World Cup, has seen action at multiple levels for the USA in recent months, including as a full international and with the U-23 Olympic squad.
The most obvious of partnerships on the field occur in the center of the park. Whether choosing to experiment at times, as with Jermaine Jones at centerback, or through the unavailability of players, Klinsmann has capitalized on these 10 matches and explored the options. There have been five different pairings in central defense. The only two that have played together on multiple occasions are Jones and Matt Besler (3), and John Brooks and Michael Orozco (2). The search for strikers has been even more diverse. Altidore has played in nine of the 10 matches since Brazil, and only once has he had the same man next to him.
Getting Their Reps
Among the other growing talents that have had their opportunities with the MNT in this transition period are Greg Garza, DeAndre Yedlin, and Gyasi Zardes. Yedlin garnered attention during the World Cup in 2014, spring boarding him to a move to Tottenham Hotspur. Along with Brek Shea and MNT veterans Michael Bradley and Nick Rimando, he is the only player to have appeared in all five U.S. matches in 2015. Meanwhile, Shea has made the most of his return to the U.S. fold. The converted left back has started in three games and is tied with Altidore as the team’s leading goalscorer this year with two goals. His second came through a stunning free kick which helped the USA draw No. 12-ranked Switzerland in Zurich in March. Garza made his debut last September against the Czech Republic, appearing in all five matches to close out the year. He’s started in two games so far in 2015, including the win against Mexico in San Antonio.
Brek Shea celebrates scoring a stunning free kick against Switzerland with his teammates who together earned a solid 1-1 result against the then No.-12 ranked Swiss.
A pair of players from Liga MX earned their first caps with the U.S. MNT in 2015, and both showed immediate promise. Ventura Alvarado came on as a late sub in the game against Denmark in March, and followed up with another appearance against Switzerland. He shined when he made his first start, coincidentally against Mexico, by helping the team secure a 2-0 win with his play earning him Budweiser Man of the Match honors. Goalkeeper William Yarbrough made his debut in the second half of the March game against Switzerland. The backstop from Club Leon was a wall when he entered in the second half of the Mexico game, making a pair of second half saves to preserve the shutout.
Young U.S. starlets William Yarbrough (left) and Ventura Alvarado have built on highly successful Liga MX showings over the past couple years by breaking into the senior USMNT player pool in 2015.