U.S. men’s soccer coach Jurgen Klinsmann appears to be preparing as much for the 2016 Olympic Games as he is for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The U.S. roster that faced the Czech Republic in Prague in a friendly Wednesday — the team’s first game since this summer’s exciting run at the World Cup in Brazil — included 10 players from the World Cup squad and six players who will be age eligible for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games. The Olympic men’s soccer tournament is limited to Under-23 players, although three older players can join each squad that qualifies.
Just two months removed from the 2014 World Cup, in which Klinsmann led the Americans to the Round of 16, he is already building for the next one. But before 2018 comes 2016 and the Olympic Games in Rio.
“We look at this as the start of our project towards Russia in 2018, and in this first step we get to look at many of our talented young players based in Europe,” Klinsmann said in a news release.
“We have some great youngsters coming through the ranks that are starting to break through with their club teams and are ready to challenge for spots on the senior team, and even most of our World Cup veterans from Brazil on this roster will be coming into the prime of their careers in the next four years, so this is an exciting opportunity.”
Fifteen of the 22 men on the roster were under 24, but more than a third of those could also be going to Rio in less than two years. Team USA beat the Czech Republic, 1-0. Up next is Team USA’s homecoming match Oct. 10 against Ecuador in East Hartford, Connecticut. Landon Donovan, a U.S. Olympian who was one of the last cuts leading up to the 2014 World Cup, will play his final game with the men’s national team in Connecticut, signaling the end of one era in U.S. soccer and ushering in another.
“When I think of the U.S. men’s national team, I think it refers to the full team not the U-23s,” said Brian Dunseth, who captained Team USA at the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games and is now a TV analyst with Fox Sports, NBC Sports and ESPN. “But you put few players in with the full real U.S. men’s national team and see what they’re made of. With Olympic qualifying around corner, you have to fast track the ID process.”
Among the returnees from the 2104 World Cup roster were goalkeepers Brad Guzan of English club Aston Villa and Nick Rimando of Real Salt Lake, who will vie for the No. 1 spot after Tim Howard’s announcement he is taking a year away from Team USA. Guzan started for Team USA against the Czech Republic while Rimando replaced him at the start of the second half.
Also returning were their 2014 World Cup teammates John Brooks, 21, of Hertha Berlin and Julian Green, 19, who this week completed a season-long loan to Hamburger SV. Jozy Altidore wore Team USA’s captain’s armband.
But joining them were six others who had yet to play for the senior national team, including 2016 hopefuls goalkeeper Cody Cropper, 21, who plays for Southampton in England; midfielder Emerson Hyndman, 18, who plays for Fulham in England; Stanford University sophomore forward Jordan Morris, 19; and Rubio Rubin, 18, who plays with Utrecht in the Netherlands.
Forward Joe Gyau, who is a member of Borussia Dortmund’s reserve team in Germany, and fellow 22-year-old defender Greg Garza, who competes for Mexico’s Club Tijuana, also are looking for their first cap but are not age eligible for the Olympic Games.
Morris, a Seattle Sounders academy product, is the first college player to be called in to the senior squad by Klinsmann since the coach took over the U.S. men three years ago. Morris was among 19 players who participated in a U-23 national team camp in August along with Cropper. That camp finished with a 5-1 victory against the Bahamas U-23 team in which Morris scored a goal.
While that camp in the Bahamas overwhelmingly gathered North American-based players, the Czech game roster was largely European-based with only one from MLS (Rimando), three playing in Mexico (Joe Corona, Tijuana; Garza, Tijuana; and Michael Orozco Fiscal, Puebla), and Morris.
MLS teams have 10 games or fewer remaining in the season and coaches often discourage their players, particularly if they play significant roles, from leaving for a European friendly match while pushing for final playoff position.
Klinsmann, and his assistant coaches Tab Ramos and Andreas Herzog, have yet to designate a coach for the U.S. U-23 team that will attempt to qualify for the Olympic Games. The qualifying tournament is likely to be held in early 2016.
Still, Dunseth said there are numerous Olympic potentials in MLS, such as San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Tommy Thompson, who eventually will be brought in. The Czech game was just another of the early steps of ongoing roster search.
“Four years is a long time, and there are some surprises (on the roster),” Dunseth said. “The idea from Jurgen, in what he has accomplished in the short and what he wants to in long term, is to identify players for the Olympics and (senior Team USA) pool players.”
Brian Trusdell is a writer from New Jersey. He has covered four FIFA World Cups and six Olympic Games during his more than 30 years as a sportswriter, mostly with the Associated Press and Bloomberg News. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.