The door is always open. That’s been one of the consistent messages from MNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, and the meaning is clear: play well, be consistent, and you will earn a chance to prove your point with the National Team. The challenge to the players is equally clear: once the door is open, its your job to walk through.
With the opening matches of the final round of World Cup Qualifying - also known as“The Hex”- on the horizon, these October’s friendlies away to Cuba and home against New Zealand provide a huge opportunity for players to make their case to be part of the MNT’s massive encounters against rivals Mexico in Columbus on Nov. 11 and an away trip to the venomous confines of Costa Rica four days later. Competition for spots – another Klinsmann mantra – will be fierce.
“These two games are very important for us because it’s the last time we can see certain players before making the decision on the 23 going in to represent us for the Mexico and Costa Rica clashes,” said Klinsmann. “There’s a lot at stake for the players to make their case, to show where they are right now. We have the opportunity to bring some players back that haven’t been with us for a little bit, and we want to see if they can put a stamp on this camp and have a chance for being in the roster next month. The bigger picture behind this is definitely Mexico and Costa Rica, and these two games will show us a lot about individual players.”
While a number of the core regulars will be present for the friendlies, Klinsmann has also summoned players that haven’t been in camp recently. Of them, Reading midfielder Danny Williams and Eintracht Frankfurt defender Timmy Chandler return after strong starts to the club campaigns, while upstart midfielder Lynden Gooch earns his first Senior Team call after becoming a regular starter for Premier League side Sunderland.
For inspiration on seizing the opportunity, there’s no better example than the one set by Sacha Kljestan last month. Patiently focusing on club performance for more than two years following his last invite in 2014, the New York Red Bulls midfielder was a last-minute addition to the roster for the September qualifying matches. Not even expecting to play, Kljestan shined in training and earned starts in both games, repaying his summons with two goals and two assists in the pair of victories against St. Vincent and Trinidad &Tobago.
“These types of games are there to have players compete for their spots on the National Team,” said Klinsmann. “I think Sacha Kljestan is a very good example. He took that chance. He really jumped on it, and that’s what we expect from players when they come in. We expect those that aren’t in the starting XI to push to be difference makers. Players who get a chance to come can’t just accept going with the flow. We need to see whether or not they are able to make a difference. That’s how you make your case.”
Klinsmann cited Williams and Chandler as prime examples of players whose efforts in their clubs have given them another chance to walk through the door.
“For Danny Williams, we recognize his good performances over the last two months with Reading. Now the task is to come in here and show us you’re a difference maker when you get on the field. Timmy Chandler is playing a good role at Frankfurt right now, and he has a similar possibility. Now coming into the National Team, they know what that have to do.”
In the land of opportunity, a rare one presents itself in goal. Klinsmann has chosen to give veterans Brad Guzan and Tim Howard a break from this camp, allowing for David Bingham, Ethan Horvath and William Yarbrough to compete amongst themselves for a place on the November roster.
“I think the goalkeeper position is unique. Obviously we have the two experienced guys with Tim Howard and Brad Guzan. Both are in different situations right now – Tim is obviously very busy with the Colorado Rapids and Brad is not getting the opportunity to play at Middlesbrough. I think it’s a perfect time to give an open window to three younger goalkeepers with William Yarbrough, Ethan Horvath and David Bingham. That’s why we decided to leave the two older guys out and give these three youngsters a chance to prove their point. That kind of opportunity is very rare.”